Max Mueller and his long term relationship with skateboards
There was a period of my life when I spent more time flipping through the newest CCS catalogue (California Cheap Skates) than I did my textbooks. Homework became circling my favorite shoes and boards from the hundreds of beautifully designed items. But it wasn’t just the objects themselves that brought me such pleasure, it was the experience of using them—ripping my pants and shoes on the asphalt, sweating through a t-shirt in a mosh pit, or cracking a deck while filming a trick. When I started to skate I found my people, as they say—people with their own radical rules. More importantly, I realized that this group came to define itself through its dedication to outsiders and innovators, and its ability to create a culture where there once was none.
Today a new generation of skaters may come across a few decks or shirts designed by a friend and former classmate of mine, Maximilian Mueller. Max, a fresh Brooklyn-based artist who has worked with Adidas, Vans, and Mike Vallely (a living legend in the skate world), has turned a longtime love for shredding into his living, and in some ways, his muse. Since graduating from the Parsons School of Design, Max has found that the skateboarding world, with its tradition of moving against the grain and repurposing the crumbling urban landscape, has ushered in a new era in his artistic production.
“Most of my shows are DIY now, not Chelsea shit, just to clarify. It’s all about craft,” Max told me over a beer at his latest solo show at the Skate Brooklyn Skate Shop, while his signature red curls bounced to the music. The show, squished into the shop’s back room, featured a band, a half pipe, two kegs, and a wall of original Mueller prints. There were also hand painted decks for sale, and a couple of flat cruisers that Max himself hacked into shape from slabs of organic Beetle Kill Colorado Pine. Walking through the stickered, booming venue I couldn’t help but feel somewhat at home, welcomed like an old friend by the familiar clang of wood on metal, metal on metal. And I thought how long it had been since an art exhibition had brought me such a sense of belonging—a far cry from the whitewashed, shuffle-your-feet-and-whisper-while-sipping-wine SoHo or Chelsea show offering banal paintings and sculptures valued in the tens-of-thousands.
Between reminiscing about our first experiences skating, the first decks we ever had, the summers spent sweating on the concrete, Max and I spoke about his choice to remain, at the moment, outside of the gallery circuit. “I probably do give myself the short end of the stick by not being a part of the gallery world,” he said, before brushing it off with a smile as if to say, “fuck it, look around, this is way more fun.” And he would be right to say it. The relaxed atmosphere resembled something of a nostalgic summertime hang. And in between sips of beer and sessions on the mini-pipe, prints would be sold for a cool 20-bucks, and someone would stop for a while to chat with Max about his work, sweating and wide eyed. The passion in the room was palpable.
In this sense, Max’s show was different: open, accessible and enjoyable. Today it’s rare to encounter a gallery artist who doesn’t embody the tropes many dealers use to place value on the works themselves. Anything worth selling on the global art-market is either the product of a tragic, bohemian life-cycle, or the brainchild of a prolific and groundbreaking thinker. What happened to the excited makers? Sheer, physical enthusiasm to create something novel from existing parts/materials (also known as—having a little fun) is rarely showcased with the same fanfare.
This approach to production has pejoratively been referred to as “craft” rather than “art”—a designation that continues to segregate artistic communities where there should be, in reality, frequent and vigorous exchange. 70-years ago a group of Argentine writers, poets, and visual artists recognized just this. They saw the connection between industrial production, craft, and a more inclusive art-making process that had the potential to make ripples in the global art world by pushing anyone and everyone to create create create. Their goal? Order from the chaos, something from nothing.
The movement was eventually dubbed Concretismo (or, Concretism), and though it was initially a reaction to a trite, prescriptive definition of fine art and the burgeoning industrial sector in Argentina, it shares many similarities with the prefab, counterculture movement that is modern skateboarding. The bedrock of the movement was that the art objects the Concretists created did not contain metaphysical or conceptual significance, but rather were nothing more than the sum of their parts. “[It] is fundamental: to surround people with real things and not phantasms,” reads the 1946 Inventionist Manifesto. For example, a pressed, painted skateboard, or a translucent, polyurethane wheel—artistic, often utilitarian, objects. These artists were able to see that this approach to art making had the ability to influence and shape the everyday person’s experience in a way that conceptual art, in the European sense, did not.
It’s worth noting that “Concretismo,” the movement, and “concrete,” the gray stuffs poured to create smooth curves and flat ground for skateparks, share the same Latin ancestor. The Latin “concrescere” can be read as “to grow together,” which only serves to highlight (beautifully, I might add) the debate between inclusion and exceptionalism in the art world. Both skateboarding and Argentine Concretismo strive for a type of unity in reconstruction, a semblance of community amidst the stratification of urban life. Is, then, Max’s DIY art show in a Brooklyn backroom an echo 70-years in the making? “I’m about supporting others and actually supporting the community. Can’t isolate people,” he said with a smile. And I believed him.
¿te gustaría que los bares y los museos tengan bebés?