Los Angeles

Dave Muller

Dave Muller’s sixth solo outing at Blum & Poe was the latest chapter of the artist’s ongoing project of chronicling the contents of his bookshelves and record collection. Winding its way free-associatively through Muller’s youth and early fascination with music, the show was, perhaps aptly, titled “iamthewalrus,” unabashedly echoing the 1967 Beatles song written by a purportedly acid-tripping John Lennon and released on the group’s Magical Mystery Tour film sound track when Muller was a mere tot.

Some of the several works on paper in the exhibition fall well short of the surprise that Lennon’s lyrics once delivered, and of what Muller is surely capable of. Dead-on renderings of album sleeves in Muller’s now fully signature style of shaky-line fidelity to the original—subjects range from his first record purchase (Snoopy and His Friends by the Royal Guardsmen) to more recent and esoteric acquisitions—read like hand-done equivalents of the results one might expect after running the source material through a slightly aging photocopier. A pair of nearly identical ink portraits of Lennon, based on a promotional photo for the Beatles’ White Album, respectively titled googoogooglyjoob (in) and googoogooglyjoob (out), both 2009, and bearing pasted-on plastic “googly” eyes, are an easy play on the nonsensical “I Am the Walrus” lyric. The two pieces succeed in signaling Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., but otherwise fail to be memorable. An artist who has devoted much of his energy to sly commemoration of his place within culture, Muller, in the weaker works, offers what seem only to be memorabilia.

On the flip side, other works here made for a compelling (if not magical) mystery tour. Muller’s familiar acrylic washes dominated the exhibition, and in one room, the installation of ten diptych paintings, with their rectangular frames hung vertically or perpendicular to each other, and in one instance placed flat on the floor, formed something similar to a game of dominoes on the walls. Among these works was a series of dense, Pollockesque, spilled-and-splattered surfaces juxtaposed with an assortment of delicately detailed images, including those of grazing cattle, a blowfish, piles of albums, and a heap of leaves, and a double of a vertically crawling snail, creating a symmetrical form suggestive of a fleur-de-lis finial. His abstract Self-Portrait from Behind (Spring 2001), 2009, composed mostly of strokes and dribbles of confetti colors, risks the kind of decorative effect one might imagine from a Sam Francis painting if reordered by Roy Lichtenstein, but it also has some of the skittish, disturbing potential of a Llyn Foulkes canvas. A suite of four large color drawings, Sgt. Pepper (Chopped & Screwed), 2009, their vertical frames mounted on the wall at thirty-degree angles and appearing like a row of dominoes about to tumble over, contain expressionist fields made of ribbonlike “scraps” from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover as if it had been put through a shredder. These works are emboldened by festive colors, but even the show’s more subtle pieces had their own strength and stealthy sophistication, including five diminutive, simple line drawings of John, Paul, George, and Ringo as nesting Matryoshka dolls seen from different vantages, tipping or falling over onto an invisible plane, or hovering in space. With these, Muller showed that even when the focus of his project shifts or zooms, he remains astute in the plays on spatial orientation, point of view, context, sampling, replay, sequencing, and revelation that have provided much of his past work with formal, conceptual, and cultural edge.

Christopher Miles