Lausanne, Switzerland

View of “Emil Michael Klein and Kaspar Müller,” 2011. From left: Kaspar Müller, Sans Titre (Boîtes) (Untitled [Boxes]), 2011; Emil Michael Klein, Komposition in Rot, Orange und Gelb (Composition in Red, Orange and Yellow), 2011.

View of “Emil Michael Klein and Kaspar Müller,” 2011. From left: Kaspar Müller, Sans Titre (Boîtes) (Untitled [Boxes]), 2011; Emil Michael Klein, Komposition in Rot, Orange und Gelb (Composition in Red, Orange and Yellow), 2011.

Emil Michael Klein and Kaspar Müller

Circuit

View of “Emil Michael Klein and Kaspar Müller,” 2011. From left: Kaspar Müller, Sans Titre (Boîtes) (Untitled [Boxes]), 2011; Emil Michael Klein, Komposition in Rot, Orange und Gelb (Composition in Red, Orange and Yellow), 2011.

Two artists, two rooms, five works each: Compare and contrast. At first glance, Emil Michael Klein’s series seemed of a piece: a kind of allover (anti-)painting featuring decorous lattices of biomorphic shapes in a retro palette of Day-Glo orange, yellow, and red; color fields connected by an artery-like network of pale lineation. But his canvases—which suggest an odd but joyous marriage of Sue Williams, Brice Marden, and Milton Glaser—were not consistent among themselves. The Basel-based artist painted the two largest (Awenger and Komposition in Rot, Orange und Gelb [Composition in Red, Orange, and Yellow], all works 2011) off the frame, then stretched them, giving these works a tightly wound look—painterly abstraction after a designer face-lift. The three smaller canvases are subtly softer. Moving among them evoked the experience of taking an eye test. Confronted with Klein’s paintings, you became both optometrist and patient, answering your own questions: “Less sharp—I think. No, sharper.”

Such optical guesswork continued as one stepped into Kaspar Müller’s room, though the Zurich artist’s boxlike sculptures could not be more different otherwise. These works, Sans Titre (Boîtes) (Untitled [Boxes]) suggest well-worn furniture of no discernible function beyond their role as containers. One low box, its white paint sanded to shabby-chicness, features three variously sized holes cut horizontally through it. Another sits framelike, as though waiting for a television monitor to fill it—though grass does instead. Another bears a petite lightbulb hidden by a canvas curtain, illuminating the dry surrealism at work here. Regardless, the boxes’ anomalous domesticity belies their utter lack of utility. Their roughshod manufacture, meanwhile, belies their status as “art objects.” They dodge classification and expectation at every turn. Slyly generous, Müller placed the works about three feet from the wall, close enough to mirror the painting installation next door but far enough to allow viewers to observe and puzzle over them from all sides.

If the virtuous attractiveness of Klein’s paintings appeared at odds with Müller’s blithe, shabby irony, an emphasis on process bridged the two rooms, and likewise an interest in surfaces—be they clean-clean or dirty-dirty—and presentation devices: wooden frames or metal plinths (which supported all but one of Müller’s boxes). Like many Swiss artists of their generation, Klein and Müller—who are in their late twenties—would rather talk about the production of works than the production of meaning. With blunt understatement, then, one naturally stands in for the other. If this is art about art, it’s not intent on undermining established orders. Theirs is a casual mastery, a gimlet-eyed view that is subversively pragmatic: artmaking as fact, as craft; art world as attitude and albatross; art history as a supermarket of styles and codes and ideas, each worn or shed as lightly and practically as the next. Accordingly, their works are marked not by a specific style but by sensibilities—at once sincere and satiric—that, paradoxically, might have been called “artistic” in some nineteenth-century novel. Nevertheless, they deploy certain artmaking modes more heavily than others, from the fertile badlands between art and design to seriality and the long history of abstraction. Thus emerges the problem: What to make of a legacy that you cannot believe in? Their works—witty, weird, impressively affecting—are on the road to finding out.

Quinn Latimer