When Marc H. Miller was hired as a curator in 1985, the Queens Museum was a much smaller place, sharing its building (a former World’s Fair pavilion in Flushing Meadows Park) with an ice-skating rink. Miller’s first exhibitions drew from the thriving downtown art scene he knew as a longtime resident of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, but he soon became drawn to Queens’ own overlooked cultural riches. Probably his most ambitious effort was Louis Armstrong: A Cultural Legacy (1994), about the jazz trumpeter and longtime Queens resident. The biographical exhibition, a mixture of art and memorabilia, traveled to the New Orleans Museum of Art and the National Portrait Gallery. Now, decades later, Miller has returned to the Queens Museum with the complementary exhibition Hey! Ho! Let’s Go! Ramones and the Birth of Punk, about the punk musicians who grew up in nearby Forest Hills.
Art history is most often told through artists’ perspectives. Started in 2008, Miller’s autobiographical website 98 Bowery: View from the Top Floor 1969–1989 describes the multi-faceted experience of an art historian, publisher, artist, journalist, and curator. It was work on the website’s last chapter (concerning his time at the Queens Museum) that eventually brought him back to the Queens Museum, where a conversation with then-director Tom Finkelpearl germinated the possibility of a Ramones exhibition.
The Queens Museum section of 98 Bowery is now at last online, coinciding with the Ramones exhibition. Digitized exhibition catalogues preserve and extend Miller’s research into myriad subjects, from television’s impact on contemporary art to the New York World’s Fairs. These subjects might seem like an unexpected conclusion to the story told on 98 Bowery, which mostly takes place in the downtown art and music scene of the 1970s and ’80s. For Miller, a PhD graduate of New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, such pop culture exhibitions exemplify the boundless continuum between fine art and mass culture that inspired his “post-pop” generation of artists, critics, and curators. Others have similar tales, but few pioneers have told their stories as vividly or as completely as Miller has, with 98 Bowery.
On Sunday, June 19 (Father’s Day), Miller will moderate two discussions, on Punk magazine and on Ramones art director Arturo Vega, for the Queens Museum’s event “Pop to Punk: the Ramones and Visual Art.”