For her Fever 103 exhibition at Artpace, Ulrike Müller developed a series of paintings in baked enamel on steel that reference the sign-like qualities of her previous abstract drawings. Müller, who considers herself an uneasy object maker, became interested in the enameling process several years ago because of the proximity of the method to vintage sign production. It also presented her with a solution to technical issues she encountered while drawing on paper, specifically the material’s vulnerability and lack of rigidity. Enamel provided the appropriate balance of delicate textural appearance with firm support that she was seeking.
During her investigation of this medium, Müller discovered that enamel today is used either industrially (for household appliances and bathtubs) or by craftspeople, predominantly jewelry makers. Her paintings, which are not large-scale in terms of contemporary art, are considered outsized when it comes to handcrafted baked enamel.
Several of the works in Fever 103 recall Müller’s 2006 series, Curiosity (Drawings), and Paraphilia from 2007. Vertical layouts are split down the center in handmade, near-symmetrical designs suggestive of body parts. The innuendo of forms and a play with figure and ground enable the simultaneous presence of multiple readings; they constitute deceptively simple images that challenge the rigidity of Modernist binary systems and traditional gender roles. The verticality-or portrait format-of the enamel paintings also serves to reinforce allusions to the body, a theme central to the artist’s oeuvre.
Müller titled her exhibition after Sylvia Plath’s 1962 poem, an 18-stanza verse that deals with the bodily experience of a severe fever. Each stanza serves as the title for one of the artist’s 18 plates. She used a similar strategy to name the works in her Curiosity (Drawings) series, where titles are derived from Futurist writer Mina Loy’s 1923 poem, Lunar Baedeker.
The technique and process of enameling resulted in an entirely new body of work for Müller. Her exploration of queer sexualities and emotions using suggestive forms through this medium generated imagery that is not only in conversation with Modernist abstraction but with early twentieth century advertising and material culture, as well. Her vision reminds viewers that slight shifts in perception might innovate more complex realities.
-Alexander Freeman, Education Curator
The 10.1 International Artist-in-Residence program is made possible by the Linda Pace Foundation; the City of San Antonio’s Office of Cultural Affairs; National Endowment for the Arts; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.; and Nimoy Foundation. Special thanks to Gwynn Griffith.