The first retrospective catalogue of the work of sisters Claudia and Julia Müller was published just over a decade after they started working together as an artists’ duo.(1) Set out as a comprehensive, chronological catalogue raisonné, it covers all their work from 1992 to 2004—everything from drawings to wall paintings to large-scale installations, video works, and computer animations. At that time the series “Groups and Spots” (2003) had only recently been completed. It comprises 12 acrylic paintings on paper, six of which are now in the Baloise art collection. The title of each work is noted on it, as in “group (children),” “group (Tibetanian beauty queens),” “group (warriors),” “group (apes).” In their next retrospective catalogue, works from 2004 to 2014 are listed in alphabetic order, rather than chronologically.(2) This in itself is an indication of the pivotal part played by systems and collation in the Müller sisters’ thinking—regarding anything ranging from simple shopping lists to encyclopedias and the many different kinds of private and public archives.
The people and animals that feature in works by the artists mainly derive from found images sourced from a wide variety of locations. Their fund of images is as diverse as the classification systems they work with. The images in the vast archive they have built up over the years come from family photograph albums, from magazines and newspapers, from advertisements and picture agencies. Their found protagonists become fluid, painted figures—mostly in somewhat muted colors—in images that have been rigorously cleared of inessentials and that are always about readability rather than sophisticated, “artistically brilliant” representation. Accordingly, it simply does not matter which of the two sisters happens to be holding the paintbrush. The entire focus of the artistic representation here is on analyzing and articulating not only patterns of behavior and strategies that are commonly used to depict figures and groups of figures, but also the ways that individuals and groups pose for the camera. However, the artists’ interest is not only in the roles that individuals enact, but also in the roles that are ascribed to them. Prime examples of the interaction between deliberate poses and the expectations of a critical audience are of course seen at beauty contests, but the artists have also found telling material for their pictorial investigations in gardens where children are playing, and in primates’ enclosures in zoos. The animals that feature in their work are mainly domesticated, or found in zoos (in habitats designated for them by human beings) where they have to exist and behave in a way that will meet the expectations of those gazing at them.
As for the children standing on either side of a snowman, could it be that they are deliberately, spontaneously defying that combination of audience and stage management, taking a stand against the idea of posing? It would in fact be perfectly possible to read the “spots” and blotches in “Children” as marks left by snowballs that the two children have been throwing at the window where their mother is watching from inside the house, taking snapshots of them at play.
In conversation around the time when “Groups and Spots” was completed, Claudia Müller commented on their treatment of source materials: “By drawing, we interpret the representation anew, introduce new codes which function as a reading aid for that particular depiction of the everyday.” And Julia Müller explained the importance of “poses” in their work: “Yes, pose is culture. And we are interested in what representational forms emerge as a result. We want to list them and expose their foundation … When people pose, the camera interrogates a constellation. A politician’s family poses more consciously than a crowd of soldiers who have been waiting for hours to be deployed. Here, laws emerge which make valid statements at a visual, psychological, and sociopolitical level. A central component of our work is to recognize and understand these.” (3)
(1) Claudia & Julia Müller, ed. Madeleine Schuppli, exh. cat. Kunstmuseum Thun and Grazer Kunstverein, Basel 2004.
(2) Claudia & Julia Müller, Berlin 2015.
(3) See “Popular Abstraction. Daniel Baumann talks to Claudia & Julia Müller,” in Claudia & Julia Müller, 2004, p. 81–87, here p. 86 and 87.
Further works by Claudia & Julia Müller in the Baloise art collection:
Inv. no. 0718, Eurobild. Liebespaar, 1998, Ballpoint on paper, 95 x 112 cm
Inv. no. 0719, Eurobild. Schwarz, 1998, Ballpoint on paper, 95 x 112 cm