Dave Muller (American, b. 1964) was born in San Francisco and has worked as a DJ and curator as well as an artist. His particular interests lie in the in-group image systems through which pop music and the art world establish a presence in the marketplace; he examines processes of definition, categorization, and the construction of individual identity through mass-cultural references, from album covers and top-ten lists to exhibition announcements. 

Seal of The New School for Social Research depicting founders Charles Beard, Alvin Johnson, and James Harvey Robinson. Photo by Gin Briggs, 1960s. Courtesy The New School Archives and Special Collections.

The first portion of Muller’s two-part work for The New School, Interpolations and Extrapolations, was commissioned by Stefano Basilico, curator of the New School Art Collection from 2000 to 2004. Inaugurating the first sustained series of new commissions for the university’s public spaces since the 1930s, Basilico and the Committee for the University Art Collection in effect championed a twenty-first-century muralism. In this regard, the selection of Muller represented both a continuation and a departure. Like Benton, Orozco, and Egas, Muller catalogs the visual discourses through which a nation or a generation asserts its visual identity. But where the older artists’ reference points were labor, politics, and indigeneity, Muller’s are advertising, ephemera, and fandom. Rather than consisting of a single, unified picture plane, Muller’s “mural” is composed of multiple framed works, parts of a fragmented whole that can be reconfigured. 

For his slyly modest installation in the Vera List Atrium, Muller culled from New School archives of promotional materials and course bulletins, tracking changes in graphic design and logotypes—and hence, projections of identity—since the school’s inception in 1919. The resulting fifteen-part series incorporates three of the school’s founders, Alvin Johnson, Charles Beard, and James Harvey Robinson, as portrait heads embossed on a medallion—its design drawn from a New School seal dating to the 1960s—which anchors the array of individually framed images. Another drawing depicts bamboo branches from Van Valkenburgh’s plantings and a glimpse of Puryear’s steel-latticework bench, centerpieces of Vera List Courtyard; yet another drawing shows Garden Elements (1959), the carving by Isamu Noguchi that once stood in the adjacent sculpture court (the sale of which partially funded the Puryear commission). 

In 2008, Muller was invited by Basilico’s successors, Silvia Rocciolo and Eric Stark, to update his commission for inclusion in the exhibition OURS: Democracy in the Age of Branding, organized for the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center by Carin Kuoni of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics. The result, titled Extensions, is a four-part work centered on yet another New School logo, this one featuring the twice-repeated word NEW in graffiti-like letters overlaid by clean sans serif type. The doubled touchstone term is set out on a banner in a particular shade of orange that was at the time an element of The New School’s brand identity. Surrounding the banner, wispy clouds waft through a bright blue sky.

Dave Muller