In December 2012, Mueller's solo exhibition Werther Effect opened in Los Angeles at Sam Lee Gallery.
Taken from Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), the exhibition title references the phenomenon of “contagious human behaviors,” including the rash of copycat suicides that ensued in imitation of Goethe’s male protagonist’s own demise (suicide by a gunshot to his head from unrequited love). For Mueller, Werther symbolizes proto-Romanticism, the frustration of desires, and the failure of a plan.
The artist’s latest, large-scale acrylic paintings are direct and representational, a stylistic break from his earlier, abstracted works that employed aerial maps of developed landscapes. These new works reference found Internet images that portray very specific events and places steeped in history and controversy. Using them (as source material) but altering their appearance, Mueller creates emotionally provocative paintings that investigate the folly of utopian systems and the progression of inevitable failure. For Mueller, his paintings are a study of contradictions and collapse. The works represent a staging of ideals that never come to fruition, illustrating the conflict between a plan and its compromised actuality.
Mueller’s Grande Hotel (2012), for instance, depicts the façade of the luxury hotel, located in Beira, Mozambique, that was billed as the “pride of Africa” in 1954 and widely regarded as the largest and most exquisite hotel on the continent. Open from 1952 to 1963, this once opulent hotel now sits in a state of decay and is currently occupied by approximately 2500 squatters, living in substandard conditions with neither running water nor electricity. With a gestural and stripping-away quality of acrylic paint on the canvas’ surface, Mueller’s 66-by-120 in. offering shows an architectural skeleton, a literal reminder of the wealth of the past and the poverty of today.