Critics’ Picks

View of “Now Where Were We?,” 2016–17.

View of “Now Where Were We?,” 2016–17.


Dave Muller

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
2400 Third Avenue South
December 23, 2016–December 3, 2017

At first glance, the striking white band that skirts Dave Muller’s vast, colorful murals in this exhibition gives the impression of an orderly timeline. But one soon realizes that all of art’s history and geography is disarranged in his mixtape of a show, “Now Where Were We?,” in which objects from the museum’s permanent collection are paired with the artist’s renderings of items from the pop-cultural everyday: among them, a disco ball, hockey pucks, a smiley face, and a rainbow flag. The painted text provides the viewer only the barest of bearings within three galleries organized around the themes of people, places, and things.

The show’s gambit, prompted by curator Gabriel Ritter, offered Muller a chance to show and pair works in unusual ways, and the artist’s disregard for conventional typologies is alternately aggravating and disarming. A Chinese landscape scroll painting faces off with Muller’s rendering of Mount Rushmore. A formalist array of Asian, African, and Pacific Islander masks rehearses curatorial history’s past mistakes, and an otherwise compelling sculpture by Daniel Buren is decoratively subsumed within Muller’s overall design. Animating Muller’s visual playlist are irreverent, playful works by Nick Cave, Jim Nutt, Frank Gaard, and Andy DuCett alongside standout pieces such as Minneapolis artist Cy Thao’s painted illustration of the Hmong migration, an immense landscape by Alfred Leslie, and Viola Frey’s monumental ceramic of a determined female Atlas cradling the world in one hand.

As a means of activating previously sleepy galleries, the installation is a brilliant move. Muller’s problematic, equal-opportunity decontextualization holds critique at bay by hewing to its musical analogy; as a curatorial model, the audiophile’s eclectic taste and benevolent appreciation works well for an encyclopedic museum’s mainstream crowds. Furthermore, it is an installation one cannot unsee. After the walls are painted over and the exhibition becomes embedded in the institution’s history, its candy-colored aura will haunt future shows staged there.