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Matt Mullican

Matt Mullican, February 2005

Matt Mullican, 2005, courtesy of Ulrich Wilmes

Born 1951, Santa Monica, California

Matt Mullican began to explore the outer reaches of subjecthood as a BFA student at CalArts in the legendary poststudio class of John Baldessari. After graduating in 1974, Mullican moved to New York and joined the ranks of the artists known as the “CalArts Mafia,” who were central to the development of postmodern art. Despite the informal, unstructured pedagogical atmosphere of CalArts, many of the program’s graduates went on to teach. Mullican is currently on the faculty of the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg, Germany.

Like many of his peers, Mullican rejected the constraints of the artist’s studio. In a series of drawings begun in 1973, he displaced this traditional site into a virtual, projective one inhabited by a stick figure. Indicating the figure’s unverifiable subjective states or sensory experiences, Mullican probed the difference between the self and symbolic or otherwise inert bodies. This led to a series of performances staged between 1978 and 1982 in which he hired a hypnotist to manipulate actors or his own person. These experiments led in turn to Mullican’s solo performances under hypnosis starting in 1996 as “That Person.” For the artist, That Person is not a model of authentic, subconscious depth, but an internal yet impersonal “found object” that coexists uneasily with Mullican, the professional artist.

The British art historian Roger Cardinal proposed the term “outsider art” in 1972 to refer to artistic expressions produced by marginalized people operating beyond the contexts of art schools, museums, and other cultural institutions. Working as That Person, Mullican imagines such a figure within himself while keeping sight of the boundaries between inside and out. Three Suitcases of Love, Truth, Work and Beauty features the obsessive outpourings of That Person: pulsating text-based ink drawings rendered in an idiosyncratic calligraphic style marked by awkward tics and ornate art nouveau flourishes. While only a few of the drawings were actually made under hypnosis, it is impossible to verify which are which. Attaching the drawings to bed sheets in grids, Mullican creates a sense of didactic distance, demonstrating the perpetual construction and decoding of artistic categories. Yet if the grid works to order its apparently irrational contents, its immersive, dreamlike extension exceeds the strictly rational.

 

Jenevive Nykolak

 

Baldessari, John, Lynne Cooke, and Hal Foster. Matt Mullican: Subject Element Sign Frame World. New York: Skira Rizzoli, 2013.