Claudia and Julia Müller

Since the sisters Claudia and Julia Müller started working together twelve years ago, their drawings—on paper, applied directly to the wall, and on video—have become acknowledged as major contributions to the current Swiss art scene. This exhibition provided the first comprehensive overview of their output, combining series of framed drawings on paper (some juxtaposed for the first time with collage), large-format drawings made directly on the wall, and four examples of the installations that the artists have been making since the mid-’90s.

The Müllers always draw from photographs—of friends, from the media, and, since their 1999–2000 P.S. 1 residency in New York, from public archives. Their source material is therefore already mediated as a picture language, and through their process of collecting, selecting, analyzing, and charging it with further levels of meaning, the artists are comparable to social anthropologists. However, the apparent naïveté and dilettantism with which they conduct their investigation into the unspectacular belies the complexity of their search for the subversive side of the ordinary.

“Random Signs,” 2000, a series of thirty-seven ballpoint-pen drawings grouped into pairs and threes and shown in the corridor areas, encapsulates several fundamental aspects of the artists’ practice. The accessibility of the themes reflecting stereotypes of North American culture, from wigwams to pop stars, and the legibility of their representational idiom engage the viewer immediately. However, the artists’ conceptual approach is revealed in the wide range of motifs that share the same front-and-center presentation on each sheet. The viewer inevitably relates the seemingly disconnected images so that they start to form relationships beyond the depiction of the real. For example, a page imitating Chinese script, the back of a dreadlocked head, and a fir tree are connected by both their formal textures and their exoticism.

Two large portraits have been drawn directly on the walls, depictions of young women—the artists themselves—whose ordinariness is offset by the close attention given to the patterns and textures of their clothes. In contrast, the installation Unsere Erde, ihre Volker, ihre Schätze (Our Earth, Its Peoples, Its Treasures), 2001/2004, alludes to our interpretation of other cultures. An animated “video drawing” of two men from the Pacific island of New Georgia, their jewelry and hair changing throughout, is spanned on either side by an ornamental wall painting and given an additional perspective by the vitrine of objects from Europe that refer to or mimic African originals. Idylls II, 2003, also combines in a video drawing the most fundamental of artistic tools with a high-tech medium. Framed by an energetically executed wall drawing of treetops and situated opposite a bench inscribed with a melancholic text taken from the Swiss writer Robert Walser, it shows the changing constellations of family relationships—conveyed by the replacement of the father with another man, a baby with an older child, the temporary absence of the mother—held between impermanence and continuity.

Compared with the rest of the exhibition, Robinson Crusoe, 2004, was disappointing. In this large utopian portrait of family members posing in harmony with their pets, the human faces had been cut away to reveal a variety of stuffed animals and birds displayed on a scaffolding structure behind the drawing. The literal extension of the image into 3-D is ultimately less successful in bringing the work into the viewer’s physical and emotional space than the serial accumulation of drawings, the scale of the wall portraits, and the videos’ manipulation of the image.

Felicity Lunn