BY David Everitt Howe in Reviews | 21 JAN 21

Jamian Juliano-Villani Goes on a Bender

Witness the sludge monster: at JTT, New York, the artist offers a poignant, if farcical critique of American consumerism

BY David Everitt Howe in Reviews | 21 JAN 21

For someone who’s as much a professional drinker as an arts professional, the fact that I had to Google who ‘Mrs. Evan Williams’ was, the title of Jamian Juliano-Villani’s new exhibition at JTT, is truly embarrassing. No, Evan Williams is not the hot, dad-bod has-been celebrity I forgot about, but rather the Kentucky bourbon brand that constitutes the well of many a rundown dive bar, as well as half of my body mass (also rundown). This titling seems somehow fitting if we’re to assume the artist is the Mrs. here, which seems likely and, as such, she’s on a bender. Her work skewers artists, critics like myself, American values, corporate branding, puppies, apple pie, the sex industry and other topics with hilarious freewheeling abandon, innuendo and infantile potty humour.  

Jamian Juliano-Villani Replace Phosphates Without Compromising Functionality, a Relief, 2020
Jamian Juliano-Villani, Replace Phosphates Without Compromising Functionality, a Relief, 2020, acrylic on canvas, step stool, 240 × 177.8 × 70.5 cm. Courtesy: the artist and JTT, New York; photograph: Charles Benton

Witness the sludge monster crawling out of a faeces-stained toilet in Replace Phosphates Without Compromising Functionality, a Relief (2020). The painting depicts a bathroom looking like the interior of grandma’s Florida dump, with its outdated gendered colour palette of treacly pink and blue pastels. The work’s top left corner is ‘printed’ with the web address of a Dennis and Jean Denbo family, their landing page full of family photos from a suburban tract home in Nowhere, USA. Click through to one of their video clips and you’ll see little Brielle singing off key in a cute pink get-up: a nightmare vision of homespun family values. Is this the shit we’re being asked to expel? A step stool placed on a pristine pedestal directly in front of the painting nods to both the it’s-art-if-I-place-it-so tomfoolery of the readymade and an invitation to faceplant onto the floor. 

Jamian Juliano-Villani, Chef Mike, 2020
Jamian Juliano-Villani, Chef Mike, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 228.6 × 177.8 cm. Courtesy: the artist and JTT, New York; photograph: Charles Benton

More family shenanigans await in Chef Mike (2020), which faithfully recreates the warm nostalgia of Norman Rockwell’s painting Freedom from Want (1942), in which a homely matriarch is just about to place an absurdly large roasted turkey onto a table surrounded by grinning, uniformly white family members. The plated bird, however, has been replaced by a literal microwave inset into the wall. Every ten seconds its door swings open and the Eurotrash tunes of Edward Maya and Vika Jigulina’s 'Stereo Love' (2009) blare out, accompanied by an LED ‘light show’ that turns JTT into the late-night leftovers of a particularly cringeworthy bar mitzvah. Bringing down the high esoterica of fine art is something of a Juliano-Villani specialty. A painting of a basket full of puppies seemingly lifted from a kitsch pet calendar is inserted into the composition of Mount Sinai, Rolex and Bacardi logos in Step and Repeat (2018) at an angle, as if it had been blasted into it. More branding – this time of the self – appears in Spoiled Victorian Child (2020). In the canvas, a fire-truck-red radish flying out of a beer mug opens its mouth to reveal a set of razor-edged teeth. A QR code auspiciously hovering in the background links to a YouTube video by blogger Myles Dyer, in which he espouses social change while touting ‘value systems of the past and present’ – all a plug for his Facebook account.


Jamian Juliano-Villani, Give It To Someone Else, 2020
Jamian Juliano-Villani, Give it To Someone Else, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 152.4 × 121.9 cm. Courtesy: the artist and JTT, New York; photograph: Charles Benton

What is it that we value? The question is the tie that binds. In Give it To Someone Else (2020), a resplendent Raquel Welch spreads her legs over a rolling ocean, revealing a pie with its fruit filling turned into jammy jaws. A sex symbol noted for her strong female roles, nonetheless she was a product of both the culture industry and its consumers’ unrealistic beauty standards, which leaves ruin in its wake. In the corner of the gallery an electric pencil sharpener drives the point didactically home: insert a pencil and a woman on a sex hotline moans orgasmically. Like food or drink, her body is something we desire – need, even – and we’ll do nearly anything to get it. While the show, as a whole, is so over-the-top as to elicit laughs, there’s a dark undertone to the ‘values’ on display: while we aim to be principled, in the end, we do what we want, for any price. Amusements aside, that’s not so funny. 

Jamian Juliano-Villani's 'Mrs. Evan Williams' is on view at JTT, New York, through 23 January 2021. 

Main image: Jamian Juliano-Villani, 'Mrs. Evan Williams', 2020, exhibition view, JTT, New York. Courtesy: the artist and JTT, New York; photograph: Charles Benton

David Everitt Howe is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn. He is currently Curator/Editor at Pioneer Works and is a contributing editor at BOMB magazine.