Rats are brilliant architects. For them, the intended purposes of humankind's designed objects hold no meaning. Instead, material properties alone determine utility. Without this bias of perceived functionality, they prove adept sculptors, inadvertently recontextualizing objects and simultaneously shedding new light on their significance. And as inflexible human preconceptions obscure the rigid formal logic that guide construction, observers marvel at the insight of the creator.

An encounter with Warren Muller's light sculptures feels much like the discovery of a rat's nest. Gathered from flea markets, auctions and junk yards; garbage is freshly reconsidered. In midair, knickknacks and whatchamacallits join industrial refuse to become lively actors in a colorfully surreal play. The tensions and potential narratives that arise from such controlled chaos force a dynamic anthropomorphism upon the hodgepodge constituents, while lights literally grant them the breath of life.

This dynamism might best be called dance. Muller's training began with a degree from the Philadelphia College of Art in Cinematography. Filming dance performances led him to become a dancer himself, until a member of his company encouraged him to explore ceramics. Finally, 25 years ago, ceramics gave way to assemblage.

His pieces, though, seem somewhat less informed by ballet or classical training than they do by samba. While Muller cites Jean Tinguely and Marcel Duchamp as major influences, his work seems equally likely an outgrowth of outsider art. Color is often bold and sometimes even tropical, while their syncopated rhythms and unabashed presence recall carnivals. Muller brings to this a certain polish that seats comfortably in the gallery context.

Muller and his partner, RJ Thornburg, started Bahdeebadu gallery together three years ago to combine their talents in tastefully creative interiors. Thornburg's designs seamlessly integrate the light sculptures and work by other local artists such as painter Melvin Butler and well-known mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar. While one can see their work at local restaurants such as Bridget Foys, Petafour, and Seafood Unlimited, the gallery showroom seems to speak best to the essence of their aesthetic.

And if you're planning on dropping by, First Friday is definitely the best time. A new creation of Muller's is always featured, while West Philadelphian musician Heath Allen and others play an eclectic mix of Jazz and World Beat.


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