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Muller Celebrates Art in the Real World

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

About a centhury ago, art for art’s sake became a rallying cry for interested parties who sought to free painting and sculpture from social duties. Over the years, and with significant successes, this once-progressive commitment to pure aesthetics degenerated into an empty academic exercise, known as art-about-art.

A decade or two ago, soulless formalism was itself displaced by art-about-the-institution-of-art. In this equally dispirited endeavor, art became nothing but a passive reflection of its overpowering context.

During the past five years, artist, musician, publicist and exhibition-organizer Dave Muller has been waging a playful war against these historically authoritarian developments. At Blum & Poe Gallery, his first solo show in Los Angeles takes this century-long process full-circle. The social aspect of art is put back into the picture, but without letting aesthetics or context drown out its partner.

In a nutshell, Muller makes art-around-art. His handsome yet plainly rendered watercolors are part and parcel of his activities as the ringleader of Three-Day Weekend, a do-it-yourself series of shows mounted first in his downtown loft, now in his Echo Park studio and occasionally at galleries in Houston, Tokyo, Vienna and London.

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Like poster-size exhibition announcements, Muller’s handmade images commemorate these weekend celebrations, in which young artists strut their stuff and get feedback from visitors--who are usually other artists. When members of Muller’s widening circle of friends get solo shows at commercial galleries, he is on hand to record the moment with snazzy drawings that resemble homemade advertisements.

Several new pieces expand upon Muller’s role as promoter to include the duties of critic and commentator. A pair of drawings transform a dismissive New York Times review of another artist’s show into a loopy love-poem that makes more sense--and is much more fun to read--than the original.

Another work slyly comments on the nerdiness of “Sunshine & Noir,” a traveling survey of contemporary L.A. art. And a hilarious diptych turns an anecdote by Walter Hopps into an astonishingly apt metaphor for Muller’s entire project.

All of his works have a come-one, come-all invitational quality. Open-ended and up-to-the-minute, they do not serve long-established cliques, but outline (and add to) the momentum of careers and movements that are just beginning. Muller’s images invite you to get in on the action and make something happen.

As generous host and freelance publicist, Muller emphasizes that art only works when it forms constituencies--groups of ordinary people whose interests are served and whose desires are satisfied by particular pieces. His clever works are about the various ways art makes its way in the world, out of the studio and beyond the control of its makers; there, anyone can make what they will of it, only to have others do the same to their interpretations. No one has the last word, but the participants with the most energy have the most power.

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* Blum & Poe Gallery, 2042 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 453-8311, through June 13. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


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