Listen. Look. Yes, there’s construction noise and too much untamed light at Rodeo. The acknowledgement of these factors demonstrates preoccupations and evolving challenges Müller poses to herself and her viewers. What is the structuring relation between the active destruction-construction outside Rodeo? How to bear the light? Forces are impinging on the gallery space. The aesthetic cannot easily be controlled by building extra walls and covering the windows. Like all artists, traditional and contemporary, the artist must compete or admit that there’s a fast-paced world of turnover in the markets—the market—the same market that controls both real estate and art sales. The harsh light of right-wing parties (fascism) lamping its ways onto surfaces all over the world—how does art stand up to that?
Ulrike Müller’s paintings, drawings, and textiles encompass and achieve the aims of abstract painting, figurative painting, genre painting and even devotional painting. It’s 2019 and a geometric shape—or geometric shapes that may or may not appear to the viewer as the form of a shoe, a flower, or a cat—no longer definitively fix the meaning of the artwork in the gallery any more than the established categories of paintings just mentioned.
In other words, we are looking at a painting, and by turns its quality of abstraction, its possible resemblance to figures or forms, its sources in quotidian life, and/or its spiritual significance are all aspects of what a painting (print, drawing, tapestry) is today, all at once.
The site of the exhibition itself is part of the significance of the work. Especially when considering Ulrike Müller’s art. Müller has consistently painted the walls, reshaped the walls, and overall shown a strong hand in the contextual presentation of her work. No different for this show at Rodeo. The white of the wall is accepted as a choice. So too the architecture, the walls, and the unshaded windows in the gallery are preferences. Directly outside the gallery, there is much construction as well as available light. The fact that both noise and illumination are present factors can only be understood as a strong set of decisions by the artist.
The central concern regarding Müller’s work here is her craft— the methods used to create paintings with baked enamel on metal supports. Consider the repeated patterns, and the palette, using a limited range of commercially available colors. The draughting skills of the artist are precise in all compositions. Seemingly endless variations are generated out of a highly disciplined and rule bound structure. Every show or installation by Müller is an achievement of exacting measures—line, scale, proportion, hue, context— framed within an evolving aesthetic vision.
Müller is a traditional artist working through time-honored tensions— tensions of symmetry and asymmetry, balance and antinomy, figure and ground, elongations and foreshortenings, many complementary and conflicting geometric patterns all guiding the eye of the viewer. These same dynamics can be seen in Titian’s Burial of Christ (1559) hanging in the Prado, or two small Delacroix’s recently shown in the NYC Metropolitan Museum, The Duke of Orleans Showing His Lover (1825-1826), and Pieta (1850). The compositional problems in these works by Titian and Delacroix are found in Müller’s paintings and prints with just as much complexity; not to mention even more recent examples such as Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Elizabeth Murray, Tomma Abts, Vincent Fecteau; or the ever-present spirit attending Müller’s expositions, Blinky Palermo. Palermo’s example gives us the greatest clue to understanding Müllers comprehensive engagement with the space of exhibition. Müller is a scholar of composition.
The Walls Do Not Fall, the title of the exhibition, refers to the defiant H.D. poems written during the poet’s time in London during the blitz. Do air raids fly over London now? Not exactly, though detonations are happening all around us. In the Arcades Project Walter Benjamin warned that Hausmannization, “urban renewal”, and the displacement of the poor (gentrification) are the means that destroy cities under capitalism. Capitalism achieves what war executes through different forms of violence not as immediately apparent as a bomb.
What shape does an exhibition take under such pressures and how can art be made at all now? H.D.’s Trilogy was a generation’s answer to those questions affirming the necessity of poetry during wartime. Müller’s continuing project is her own retort.