Group Show at le-1
Living with Endangered Languages in the Technological Age at Root Division Gallery
My East is Your West, a Collateral Event for the 2015 Venice Biennale
Seeking a Curator/Associate Curator of Post-war and Contemporary Art
Le fil rouge (The red thread)
New Measurement and Qian Weikang: Two Case Studies of Conceptual Art Practice in the Early 1990s
Prospect New Orleans
Keith Haring: The Political Line at the de Young Museum
the Brussels performance art biennale
Issue 10 now available
Theaster Gates wins the Artes Mundi 6 Prize 2015
Andrea Zittel’s Social Experiment
In the Mirror of the Other
Peter Wächtler at Reena Spaulings
Face to face — an unexpected pair of works at Represent at the PMA
N. Dash at Hammer Museum
Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller
John Waters and Cookie Mueller, 1977, New York. Photograph: Bobby Grossman
Mueller was fueled by equal parts spontaneity and ambition; she was both party girl and serious artist. It was her desire to do more with her life than just hang out – which was about all there was to do in Provincetown – that compelled her to move to New York in 1976. In a city scene that was fueled by competitive rivalries and bitchiness, Mueller quickly came to stand out a rare example of someone who could be both a diva and a sweetheart. When she arrived at a bar, nightclub, or party, then that venue became the place to be.
Downtown New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s was a site where art, nightlife and punk rock converged. It was a remarkably fertile creative period, when people who wanted to live what Penny Arcade calls ‘an artistic lifestyle’ could do so without having to worry too much about how to pay the rent. It was also a time when heroin was used as a recreational drug. Mueller supported herself throughout the ’80s by supplying various powders to the downtown set from her apartment.
Don Herron, Cookie, 1978, photographic print. Courtesy: the Estate of Don Herron
In New York, Mueller began to focus more on her writing. While she was perhaps best known for the tongue-in-cheek advice column ‘Ask Dr. Mueller’ she wrote throughout the ’80s for the East Village Eye, Mueller also emerged as one of the more prominent chroniclers of the East Village art scene. She was an art writer – as distinguished from an art critic; she viewed writing about art as an open-ended literary art form, rather than the communication of expert judgment. Her ‘Art and About’ column, penned for the earliest incarnation of Details magazine, was respected among her artist and writer peers for being completely free of the theory-inflected jargon which had become increasingly common in critical writing at that time. Instead, Mueller relied on her wealth of experience – in life, on the streets, as a mother, as a woman, as an outsider – as her primary tool of engagement with works of art. Hers is the prose of the rugged outsider – unafraid of embracing narrative and meta-narrative: ‘Looking at any one of these paintings,’ Mueller wrote in her article on Duncan Hannah, ‘I find myself playing out the scenario, writing the corresponding story in my head. I know these tales, I know what the weather feels like the day of the painting. I know the characters and what they’re doing there, where they’re going and what they’re thinking. The plot is here in the present, but the future and the story resolution is anybody’s guess.’ Her recourse to narrative and feeling put Mueller in league with the poets of the New York School writing art criticism in the ’60s, such as James Schuyler. They rejected the idea that writing from the artist’s vantage point – quite often these poet-critics were close friends with the artists they were writing about – somehow disqualified its validity. Mueller helped open up the field to a wider array of possible approaches to writing about art.
For Mueller the divide between art and life never really existed. Her fiction (which has been collected in a handful of volumes, including Semiotext(e)’s Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black (1990)) was much like her critical work; both gave voice to her lived experience of a glamour that has little to do with the superficial understanding of the term you find in fashion magazines, and more to do with an exaggerated yet unconcerned way of being-in-the-world. Glamour in her work means a hedonistic, yet mindful, pursuit of pleasure and an unwitting openness to courting danger along the way. As Mueller said of herself, ‘I’m not wild. I happen to stumble onto wildness. It gets in my path.’
Cookie and Max Mueller, 1976, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Photograph: Audrey Stanzler
It is this glamour, this wildness, that impelled so many of the stories that make up the fabric of Mueller’s life, as collected in Griffin’s book: a life of the ever resourceful bricolagiste, accustomed to solving dilemmas on the spot. These include the time she visited West Berlin for the Berlin International Film Festival and was ditched in her hotel by director Amos Poe with an exorbitantly large phone bill; in an effort to escape, she inadvertently wound up climbing over the Berlin Wall. Once upon a time, as her friend Linda Ogiersen recounts in the book, Mueller, confronted with bare cupboards and a throng of unplanned guests, served canapés smeared with dog food (all she had at home) in a resourceful effort to maintain her reputation as a good hostess.
Mueller lived fast, raised a child, wrote some great stuff, and became the toast of New York – she accomplished a lot in a short period. In the late ’80s, the pace of life began to slow as the AIDS crisis meant that the denizens of downtown scene were more likely to see each other at a funeral than a nightclub. Like a lot of talented people in the ’80s, Mueller ran out of time. AIDS was a likelihood for some, an inevitability for many others; by 1986, when she married her husband, artist Vittorio Scarpati, both knew they had already separately contracted HIV. We cannot emphasize enough what has been lost, and must continually wonder what the present might look like had so many of the most brilliant individuals of the late 20th century not been taken away at the moment of their blossoming. Cookie Mueller, who gave ‘living in the moment’ a new energy and momentum, was certainly one of them. Now that Griffin has re-ignited her star, one can only hope that others will follow suit and bring Mueller’s unfairly neglected writings back into print.
Chloé Griffin, ed., Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller, BBooks Verlag, 2014-->