Critics’ Picks

Martin Mull, Circus, 2008, oil on linen, 72 x 60".

Martin Mull, Circus, 2008, oil on linen, 72 x 60".

New York

Martin Mull

Stellan Holm Gallery
60 East 92nd Street
December 11, 2008–January 24, 2009

Exploiting found vintage family snapshots as creative source material is hardly an original gambit, so the success or failure of Martin Mull’s new canvases rests to a large extent on their individual quirks and subtleties––as well as their maker’s technical sophistication––rather than on wholesale innovation. Focusing on anonymous images of American suburbia from the 1950s and ’60s, engineering the odd visual recombination, and applying titles that skew the viewer’s reading of each scene, Los Angeles–based Mull offers a gentle but skilled critique of the traditional nuclear family, the world of work, and the comforts of wealth.

In his series “Seven Deadly Sins,” 2008, Mull illustrates time-honored biblical no-no’s in refreshingly oblique fashion: Wrath depicts a hospital patient in bed; in Sloth, a man is posed expressionlessly in front of his trailer; and Envy presents two prim-looking office workers seated at adjacent desks. All appear innocuous, but the artist’s fire-and-brimstone assignations prod us to hunt for ominous undertones of crime and punishment that may or may not exist. Five paintings in the rear gallery are rendered in the same smooth grisaille––with occasional spots of wan coloration––but also feature some unexpected insertions. In Global Warming, for example, a smartly dressed couple and their son mug stiffly for the camera while a game of nude volleyball unfolds an arm’s length behind them. The juxtaposition, like the word-image disconnect of “Seven Deadly Sins,” is incongruous enough to be funny, but not so far-out that it fails to unsettle.