Kaspar Müller’s work is as difficult to pin down as mercury. This exhibition, “I was in Trinidad and learned a lot,” opened with a series of stills from his 2010 film Colmar & Strasbourg, made for his Manor Art Prize show at the Museum zu Allerheiligen in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. The film (not on view here) leads us through the eponymous French cities but without differentiating between them. They seem almost like one place, a caricature of a quaint “Old World” town—with canals, half-timbered buildings and cobblestone streets, and the clean, touristic feel of a Disneyland simulation. A figure with magnetic appeal, wearing a tall colorful hat, appears in the various locations. Once he is glimpsed, often amid sight- seers, the eye searches for but cannot always find him. At Francesca Pia, the film stills, presented as single images or in grids of four or six, were printed in a monochromatic blue, making the settings even less specific, although the man in the hat could still be spotted.
A ballet-type barre was placed diago- nally across the second gallery space, unadorned but for a few revolting lumps of chewed gum adhered to its under-side. This is No Fear (2011), made in collaboration with artist Tobias Madison. The surrounding walls featured an array of works, including two small, distressed wood cabinets, both Untitled (Cabinet), 2011. These hung with their doors closed, their potential secrets concealed. Several Cattelan-like rubber body parts, such as a cigar-wielding hand, were nailed up unceremoniously around the room.
A short two-part text, also created with Madison, accompanied the show. The first part retold Voltaire’s Candide in the folksy vernacular of a comic strip. The second referenced Truffaut’s film Day for Night (1973), which is titled after the cinematographic practice of shooting nighttime scenes in daylight. The illusion of night ated through a number of techniques, often involving the use of blue filters— likely a clue to Müller’s chromatic manipulation of the Colmar & Strasbourg stills. Truffaut’s film circles around the making of a movie and asks which is more important: the real lives of the actors and director or the fiction they are employed to depict. Like Truffaut, Müller raises questions about authentic experience, by spotlighting various forms of artifice in the everyday world. With Colmar & Strasbourg he made a stage of real-life settings and placed an alienated protagonist on it. At Francesca Pia, he created an environment in which the viewer could experience his or her own alienation, surrounded by illusory images and proplike objects that refused to cohere into a narrative. His approach stands counter to dominant methods of constructing meaning, but it runs the risk of baffling the viewer once too often.