JAMES BROWN / STEPHEN MUELLER
Bronzes and Paintings
NOVEMBER 18, 2009 / JANUARY 30, 2010
OTTO ZOO gallery presents an exhibition, curated by Peter Nagy, of works by Stephen Mueller and James Brown.
The paintings of Stephen Mueller (Virginia, 1947) and the sculptures of James Brown (Los Angeles, 1951) occupy similar positions on the long-sweeping arc of Modernist Abstraction, now bending as if by the gravitational forces of Post-Modernism and non-Western cultural traditions. Both artists seem to negotiate a Western, secular pedigree of reduction and refinement while accommodating languages culled from pre-Modernist and sacred sources. The approach they share feels close to the art of Tantra, the occult branch of Hinduism that employs deeply personal iconographies to garner both power and knowledge. Both artists eschew a socialized or overtly communicative art practice (no Relational Aesthetics and photo/text panels here), preferring to allow a solitary studio practice to become something like ritualistic devotion or a meditative discipline.
Stephen Mueller, showing for the first time in Italy, is a New York painter who held true to that city’s tradition of abstraction, fusing expressionistic gestures with geometrical motifs in his work of the 1980s. In the past twenty years, his practice has turned towards more Asian sources while his technique has excelled in both command and nuance. Soft washes and stains of color nuzzle up against one another, their forms suggestive of elements derived from tibetan Thangka paintings and Rajasthani miniatures. Geometrical forms appear on occasion, describing the similarities between Mandalas, cell structures and the silhouettes of temple architecture. Mueller’s abstraction is syncretist, his inspirations and allusions akin to a lilting tune heard from a distance and only barely recognizable or the gentle wafting of incense smoke through the air.
James Brown, originally from California, established himself in New York and Europe in the 1980s and has been based in Mexico for the past twenty years. Primarily a painter, he developed a sculptural vocabulary in the ‘80s that transformed found objects into esoteric constructions. Using forms from antiquated decorative arts lexicons, his sculptures in bronze feel both ecclesiastical and commemorative; they might be found in a Zen temple in Kyoto or marking a make-shift grave in some tribal area. Brown’s sculptures are neither figurative or architectural, nor are they completely abstract and devoid of recognizable affiliations.