Born in Santa Monica in 1951, Matt Mullican lives and works in New York City. He received his BFA in 1974 from California Institute of the Arts. His work has been exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris among others. A retrospective of his work was held at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2000. Like his friend Allan McCollum and his fellow CalArts graduate Tim Ebner, Mullican is part of a generation of artists from the late 1970s and 1980s who shared a fascination with the effects of signs, symbols, and most any form of representation on society. It was a time when anything could be perceived as a sign for another meaning, only to be “read as text” in order to reveal its hidden significance. On one hand, their interest represented the influence of the introduction of new French theory into the American academy by philosophers such as collaborators Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Jacques Derrida, and Jean Baudrillard. On the other hand, their interest represented a suspicion of authority and delusion after President Nixon’s impeachment and the Vietnam War.
Many of Mullican’s pieces present a variety of symbols that appear on paper or canvas like hieroglyphics on a monument wall—intriguing but indecipherable. Often they feel familiar, as if they were directional signs that might be seen at a transportation hub. Yet, it is clear that their actual meaning is unknown. This experience serves to emphasize the artificiality of the symbols used in our society for communication, especially in advertisements and consumer culture. Mullican, then, has created his own language from recognizable symbols in order to map out a personal cosmology. He associates them with specific colors, too, in order that viewers might recognize them in several different works. Thus, they provide a moment of recognition, but nonetheless reinforce for us that his map is only for a private, parallel universe.
Oil stick rubbing on rag paper, c. 1980s
96 x 48 inches
Gift of Dr. John Menkes in memory of Joan Simon Menkes