Nikko Mueller’s show, up for one more week, begins with a great title, and goes on to deliver on its promise with a sophisticated suite of twelve paintings. The name Poverty Porn, on one hand, comes with a certain audaciousness, especially in light of painting titles such as Gaza Strip, Freeways over Projects and reFUgee camp, Darfur.
Using the oh-so-democratic tool of Google Earth as the means to his aerial landscapes, Mueller dramatizes his chosen vistas into lushly built-up layers of acrylic on canvas. In several of the works, rectangular buildings –whether residential or commercial – are depicted with ample molded thickness so as to become virtual relief maps (see Favella, the smallest work in the show at 20”x18”, and also the most sculptural, with dense rectangular shapes spanning over brief passages of raw canvas).
Is Mueller transforming populations of impoverishment into optical titillation for high-art consumption? Perhaps, but it’s never quite that simple. At the other end of the inhabitance spectrum, in Desert Mansions (Las Vegas) and Get Away, the wealthiest home owners receive a treatment of their own, and it is this equal distribution of anonymity that levels the playing field, along with our scope. These perspectives are, again, far too democratic to be exploitive. They are ultimately collections of shapes; there is a distancing mechanism that we become aware of; slight murmurs of alienation may also drift into view. Between these extremes of poor and rich there’s also a middle-ground found in this body, one that depicts commercial sites of blight and abandonment; a couple of these may be a bit too literal in their blueprint-like layout, which doesn’t leave us much room to move around in, if you will. But in every case, Mueller brings a great sense of color and paint density: an effective balance of a surveillance-like light and a lively mix of luminescent but subtle hue variations. There’s a satisfying oscillation from abstraction to representation and back again.
As our – the earth’s - collective landscape continues to corrode, Mueller, and the rest of us for that matter, will likely have a greater range of painterly opportunities to mine (while Google Earth already seems to be at peak functionality, doesn’t it?). With this kind of porn, any setting can be made sexy, and each no more or less sexy than the last.