press release

Matt Mullican - Between Sign and Subject
March 9, 2019–January 26, 2020

Over the past four decades, Matt Mullican has created a multifaceted body of work encompassing drawing, collage, painting, photography, video, sculpture, installation, and performance under hypnosis. Between Sign and Subject is his first solo project in the United States in 20 years and brings together four bodies of work that join signature pieces from the 1980s with new works made for the exhibition: bulletin boards, light boxes, rubbings, and a flag that map the universe of symbols and pictograms that chart Mullican’s experience of being in the world.

Trying nothing less than to “make sense of existence,” Mullican invented a personal cosmology to aid him with this urgent, yet fallible task. Operating from an understanding of reality as based entirely on perception, Mullican defined a visual system of colors and related symbols, representing five “worlds.” The first world, identified by the color green, is the material world, the elements; the second, represented by blue, is everyday life; the third is yellow and indicates the world of culture and science; the fourth is that of language and appears in black and white, and the last and most important world is that of subjective experience, which is rendered in red.

To represent this system spatially, Mullican developed charts where each world is inscribed in a particular section. Early examples are represented in the exhibition context in the form of a bulletin board from 1980, a format Mullican has used since the early 1970s, to organize his visual universe. Three other billboards feature a collection of household items representative of the blue world of everyday life, drawn studio views that distinguish the yellow realm of cultural production, and cut-out comics as part of the black world of signs. From the 1980s onward, Mullican developed his organizational charts into maps of a fictitious city. In 1986, a partnership with the Hollywood IT company Digital Productions, gave Mullican the opportunity to develop this concept virtually. The Computer Project (1986–1990) is a virtual reality recreation of his city, expanding over 18 square kilometers. It is represented in the project by Untitled (1989), a series of light boxes made with the computer graphics generated for this project.

The focal point of Between Sign and Subject is Living in that World; a group of 40 rubbings. One of the oldest methods of reproduction, dating to ancient China, rubbing traditionally involves laying paper over a carved stone and rubbing its surface to reveal the impressions. To produce these works, Mullican placed canvas onto reliefs created specifically for this purpose, and traced their outlines with black paint-stick. The resulting images hover between being drawing, print and panting and reflect the artist’s ongoing investigation of the gap between a thing and its symbolic representation.

Matt Mullican: Between Sign and Subject is curated by Claudia Schmuckli, Curator in Charge, Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The Contemporary Art Program is made possible by Presenting Sponsor the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund. Major support is provided by Nion McEvoy and Leslie Berriman and The Paul L. Wattis Foundation. Additional support is provided by Kate Harbin Clammer and Adam Clammer, Jessica and Jason Moment, Katie Schwab Paige and Matt Paige, David and Roxanne Soward, Joachim and Nancy Hellman Bechtle, Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin, Mr. Joshua Elkes–The Elkes Foundation, Shaari Ergas, Laurent Fischer and Jason Joseph Anthony, Richard and Peggy Greenfield, Kaitlyn and Mike Krieger, Fred Levin and Nancy Livingston–The Shenson Foundation, Lore Harp McGovern, Rotasa Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Charles R. Schwab, Gwynned Vitello, Vance Wall Foundation, Anonymous, and the Contemporary Support Council of the Fine Arts Museums.

About Matt Mullican
Matt Mullican (b. 1951, Santa Monica, California) received his BFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 1974. He lives and works in Berlin and New York and was Professor of Time-Based Media at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg (2009–2018).

Mullican's work has been exhibited at many international venues, including the Pirelli Hangar Bicocca, Milan (2018) Camden Arts Centre, London; and Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2016); Kunsthalle Mainz, Germany (2014); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2011); Tate Modern, London (2007); Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2005); Kunsthalle Basel and Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland (2001); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1998); Centre for Contemporary Art–Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, and Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (1996); Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and IVAM, Centre del Carme, Valencia (1995); Wiener Secession, Vienna(1994); and MOCA, Los Angeles (1989 and 1986). He has participated in several collective exhibitions, most recently the 55th Venice Biennale (2013); Singapore Biennale (2011); and 28th São Paulo Art Biennial and Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum, New York (2008).