U.K.-based performance artist Millie Brown is perhaps best known for drinking colored milk and vomiting it on canvas. In some cases that canvas is Lady Gaga, as Brown was the woman vomiting a lovely shade of neon teal onto Gaga's white dress in the video interlude of the Monster Ball Tour.
Brown's first U.S. show opened Thursday night at Illoulian Boutique Art Gallery in West Hollywood. The emetophobic can rest easy — you will not find rainbow barfing of any kind at this show. The new exhibit, “Celestial Bodies,” is not only Brown's U.S. debut but also her directorial debut, featuring short films “Celestial Bodies” and “hermAPHRODITE,” as well as stills from both films on display.
A curious part about getting to an event on the earlier side, and especially on opening night, is experiencing the last-minute preparations, the nervous energy and the overall anticipation with those who have been with the project since it was just an idea. Gallery owner Candice Illoulian chatted with me shortly before she opened the doors while setting up an appetizer table, directing where to put the orchids, ensuring Champagne was on its way, chatting with family members who were dropping by to help out or say hello, all with complete composure and a smile on her face.
She was introduced to Brown through a mutual friend, and they immediately hit it off and began to discuss bringing Brown's first U.S. show to her studio in West Hollywood. “She finds beauty in the taboo,” Candice explained. I guess these days “taboo” can result in both having to answer to eating-disorder groups concerned over bulimia issues, and calls from Lady Gaga to collaborate. Or in this case, blurred sexual boundaries.
The short films were projected on a wall and I was told, “Yes, that is a man giving a blow job to a woman who is wearing a strap-on.” It certainly was. She seemed to enjoy it, too, as she spit out a liquid substance from her mouth in slow motion. (You can buy the prints, “Blow Job” and “Cum Shot,” for $3,800 and $3,400, respectively.)
A friend speculated, “Isn't that just porn? Porn with great cinematography?” To me it was more along the lines of erotica (in its themes, imagery and “Dildo Shoes by Void of Course” in the credits), but in speaking with Brown, she explained even further: “The theme for the films is gravity. The effects it has on our bodies and also our minds. … A lot of my work is inspired by dreams. And I wanted to bring dreams and reality together in the films.”
It was a warm opening reception in a bright and inviting gallery. Friends, family members, art enthusiasts of all ages — including a small child who stopped by with his dad for a few minutes to say hello — began filtering in as soon as the doors opened. Everyone seemed taken with the images. (Note: Kids do not pay attention to a nun standing over a coffin or anything else projected on a screen when there is cheese to be had.) The only negative thing heard was when a gentleman noted, “She didn't put herself out there,” with a slight twinge of disappointment, after seeing that Brown didn't actually appear in any of her films. It seems not only do people admire her work, they also like to watch her specifically.
After living in L.A. for a brief period of time when she was 17, Brown wanted to bring the show back here, instead of, say, the expected New York art scene. She was unsure about how audiences here would receive her work, but it appears Los Angeles is welcoming her with open arms. The event is an official event for Gay Pride Month (as she explained, “The show isn't for it but it's happening at the same time. A lot of my themes touch on gender and sexuality and so it worked out perfectly”) and is also a part of a LACMA Art Walk private launch event happening this week.
“Celestial Bodies” runs through July 8 at Illoulian Contemporary Boutique Art Gallery at 146 N. Clark Drive, Suite 101, West Hollywood.