Retro Perspective: Rev. Jen Forges Ahead by Looking Back

Rev. Jen (left) with 2017 Miss Subways Pageant winner Lisa Levy. | Photo by Anne Sussman

BY REV. JEN MILLER | I think it’s safe to say that the best thing about 2017 is that it’s over. Globally, it was a political and environmental disaster. Personally, 2017 was not exactly rainbows and unicorns, but more a mix of “upheaval” and “crushing depression,” which I’ve documented in past columns. Hence, I won’t rehash the details here. Instead, you can read all about them in my next book: “Straight Outta Bellevue.” Let’s just forget 2017 ever happened, burn our old calendars, and discuss why 2018 will be awesome. (It will probably suck too, but at least we’ll be able to legally dance in bars!)

Rarely do I ever make New Year’s Resolutions. But after a year of stewing in the filth of my monkey pajamas, watching too much SpongeBob and bemoaning terrible life choices, I stared at the elf in the mirror and decided to make a change. Maybe I can’t fix the world, topple evil regimes, cure diseases or even bother to floss, but I can do one thing, which is make art. So that is precisely what I resolved to do — make the world less boring through art.

Throughout my life, whenever I’ve been down, picking up a paintbrush or a pen and just trying to create something lifts my spirits. When I was a wee tot, my father, who taught me to paint, said, “When you make art, all your worries just drift away.” And, he was right. Being creative has done for me what no pharmaceutical has ever done.

But even better than the act of creating art is sharing it, sometimes even selling it and making money, which one can then exchange for things! With this in mind, I determined to put on an art show, and not just any art show, but a Mid-Career Survey. Such “surveys” are normally given to more established artists who show in big galleries and museums, whereas I mostly showed my art in the former Troll Museum, which I was evicted from because I am a failure.

I contacted a friend who is a curator at Museum of Modern Art, secretly hoping to get a show there, but that will likely only happen when I am dead. (Hopefully, death won’t happen for a long time, but when it does, I’ve requested that my skeleton be donated to the School of Visual Arts so that fledgling art stars can draw me in anatomy class and say, ‘I’m drawing Reverend Jen!”) My friend suggested I email some Lower East Side galleries, which I did, but no one wanted me. And then, out of the blue, I got a Facebook message from Martina Secondo Russo, who runs MF Gallery  in Brooklyn, asking if I’d like to do a show there. I was elated, as MF Gallery is my FAVORITE gallery in NYC. Years ago, I got to perform there with the band GWAR at their first ever “Crack-A-Thon,” a benefit designed to alleviate the band’s crack debt. I can’t think of any other gallery cool enough to have hosted GWAR, a heavy metal band that was comprised of barbaric interplanetary warriors.

So, I leapt at the chance and told Martina, “Yes!” Because I am prone to hyperbole, I decided to call my art show “Reverend Jen: Best Mid-Career Survey Ever.” Maybe it wouldn’t be the best ever, but I would make it fun, as “fun” is an element too often missing in the art world these days. Growing up, I looked at pictures of Warhol’s Factory and thought that’s what New York City’s art world would be like: people in leopard print coats and sunglasses, making weird movies and working together in a “scene.”

Laruocco and the Stunt Doubles performed at the Jan. 13 opening of Rev. Jen’s Mid-Career Survey (through Feb. 14 at MF Gallery). | Photo by John Foster

In high school, I wore vintage clothes and oversized sunglasses. I also worked my ass off, painting. When I was 16, the cool kids in my high school responded to my behavior by painting the phrase “You are a Art Fag” in giant letters on the street in front of my house. (I knew it was the cool kids because of the grammatical error.) The city of Silver Spring, Maryland had to gravel over the graffiti. I was delighted since it meant I was already the most famous artist on my block. Soon after, I made it to NYC to attend School of Visual Arts. But, I got here in 1990, shortly after Warhol died and Michael Musto announced that Downtown was “dead.” Forced to contend with the lamest era in history, I vowed to keep weirdness alive, starting an open mic, sporting elf ears, making movies, and opening the aforementioned Troll Museum.

This spirit of eccentricity that I have fought to salvage came alive at “Best Mid-Career Survey Ever.” Friends who have collected my work over the years lent pieces to the gallery: elaborate paintings of kittens with third eyes and Chihuahuas riding unicorns. Invigorated, I also made new work including “Girl (Also) with a Pearl Earring,” which features an attempted replica of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” alongside my beloved, deceased Chihuahua, Reverend Jen Junior, also wearing a pearl earring. And, of course, there are Trolls on display!

L-R: Chris Robinson, Malcolm Foster, Rev. Jen, Jeff Foster, Lisa Snyder, and special musical guest Rob Paravonian (whose selections included the iconic theme song to “The Adventures of Electra Elf,” for which he wrote and performed the music). | Photo by John Foster

Despite freezing weather, the opening saw a capacity crowd along with performances by comedic songwriter Rob Paravonian, and performance artist Dylan Mars Greenberg. Performers Laruocco and the Stunt Doubles also made an appearance in grand matching outfits. People danced as we projected my films onto the walls. It was the New York I’ve always wanted.

And, if you missed the opening, there is more fun to be had. On Sat., Jan. 20 from 7-10pm at MF Gallery (213 Bond St., Brooklyn; mfgallery.net), there will be a “Creature Double Feature” where I’ll be showing my films “Satan, Hold My Hand” and “Werewolf Bitches from Outer Space.” If you can’t make that, the gallery is open by appointment only until Feb. 14. Call 917-446-8681 or email info@mfgallery.net to book one today! Don’t miss out!

Dylan Mars Greenberg, seen here performing with dancers at the Jan. 13 opening of Rev. Jen’s Mid-Career Survey. | Photo by John Foster

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