The final Dubai exhibition of Salsali Private Museum presents a selection of paintings by Austrian painter Philip Mueller from its collection alongside new and site-specific works. Following the journey of Mueller’s practice—which founder Ramin Salsali has been acquiring for 10 years and features prominently within his private collection—TIBE NOW: Free Drinks, Boots and Tickets to the Apocalypse traces the evolution of series including Black Flamingo Sad Boys (BFSB), Der Berg and Mütters through to the new commissions. Less a survey of Mueller’s exploration of excess and recontextualised historical symbolism, it’s a culmination of existential crisis-laden narratives that form a purer whole. The clouds of Mueller’s misty mountaintops and grey seasides have begun to clear, revealing the vulnerabilities of his debaucherous and anthropomorphic characters, as well as the finale of his cacophonous painted orchestra. Mueller may have shed light on his and his protagonists’ minds’ eyes, but we are not the voyeurs—it is his aloof, misguided visionaries dedicated to the pleasure principle who peer at us.
Characteristically maximalist and explosive, Mueller now extends the boundaries of the canvas to the edges of the gallery space by painting an immersive, in-situ environment. The Meta gesture of bringing us into an engulfing fresco and becoming guests within the backdrops depicted in his works provides a firsthand, bittersweet taste of Mueller’s Neo-Romantic universe. Reintroducing the apes—but now in boots—horses and fauna layered in his earlier work; the BFSB, an imaginary gang of motorcycle jacketed pseudo dandies with hedonistic motivations and masked insecurities; and traditional techniques paying homage to classical busts and imposing Alpine and Southern Italian landscapes, the consecutive series aren’t merely sutured together. They holistically represent different views of the same story—one that portrays the soft underbelly of the human condition, finally laid bare.
Mueller has spent years forming the intentionally oscillating farcical and intimidating mythology of the BFSB, who take centre stage. Occupying Beach Resort Tiberio, an abandoned locale inspired by Capri and Santo Stefano—a former prison island—the imaginary landscape is nonchalantly desecrated by graffiti and tattooed bodies, and littered with abandoned chairs as Roman busts wash ashore. It is a forged environment intended to allow his protagonists a return to nature and the real personas behind their masks. With a nod to Kaputt by Curizio Malaparte— who likewise possessed an appetite for high living and an awareness of humanity’s depravity—wherein Malaparte proposes that skin is the real uniform, Mueller dramatically and existentially disrobes his progeny. But this purification is not a violation: it’s the ultimate expression of building it up in order to tear it down.
Celebrating an apocalyptic downfall, Mueller’s characters embrace glorious, gratuitous decadence in a hideaway where those eager for selfish evasion and social extraction can stop, stay and relax. The silver lining of free drinks, boots and indulgence is marred by a willingness to be trapped through ad absurdum and remain in limbo with front row seats to the apocalypse, where on one side there is life and the other, death. But as with all of Mueller’s interventions, something is amiss—Beach Resort Tibero is his existential, dystopian answer to the fantasy of puritan beach club holidays, and little does more to reinforce the inevitable outcome than the monumental Capitoline Wolf painted on the wall. A subverted symbol of the abject sustenance of this self-created society where Dionysian values take a deep present-day dive into sex, drugs and rock-and-roll, it’s now time for weaning.
Mueller’s intuition fuses classical painting techniques with expressive, brute painterliness and nuanced chromatic layering, where symbolism runs rampant and fun is laced with anarchy. A response to social sanitation, TIBE NOW revels in corporeal excess, anguish riddled desire, and corruptible reason. It is an infectious state of anti-being, and though BFSB believe this Garden of Eden is their reward for their lawlessness and mayhem, the Capitoline Wolf ominously remains. Beach Resort Tiberio nurtures them—for now—but inevitably, it will rip them apart as decadence knows no limits, desire has no end, and though BFSBs have finally found refuge, it will all—literally—come tumbling down.