Critics’ Picks

View of “Christian Philipp Müller,” 2010.

View of “Christian Philipp Müller,” 2010.

Graz

Christian Philipp Müller

Gallery Artelier Contemporary
Griesgasse 3
September 23–December 4, 2010

For nearly five centuries, the coarse woolen fabric called loden has been produced in Styria, a state in southwest Austria. The material is primarily used in Trachtenkleidung, a type of traditional Austrian clothing that is often produced in olive green and gray-brown. Originally intended to protect against inclement weather, today Trachtenkleidung clothing has become a symbol of conservative values such as a nativist devotion to one’s homeland. What happens, then, when the shape and color of the loden garment are altered? For his 2010 project BURNING LOVE (Lodenfüßler), the Swiss artist Christian Philipp Müller had a nearly 160-foot-long strip of white loden created in Styria. The swath was outfitted with twenty circular openings, and for the performance component of the project, twenty men slipped into this oversize raincoat and hiked through the Styrian countryside. The procession, which resembled a mass gay wedding, suggested, among other things, the homoerotics of masculinist patriotism.

The video of the men’s absurd yet somehow sacred perambulations is on view in this excellent exhibition. Nearby, a red loden cloak is draped over a sheep’s pen, and a white robe hangs over a feeding trough. Instead of recalling the overwrought connection to homeland, here the material brings to mind the apparel one would see in a circus, church, or some kind of protection ceremony. In addition, Müller exhibits photographs that depict him walking through the streets of New York and Miami dressed in the red and white loden cloaks. This immediately evokes the Ku Klux Klan; again, the cut and color of the garments in unexpected contexts displaces the objects’ meaning, yielding more associations than just Austrian nationalism. Thus Müller succeeds––with only a very few, well-aimed interventions––at revealing the hidden traits of an everyday, traditional object.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.