Matt Mullican

In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Michel Foucault writes, “History now organizes the document, divides it up, distributes it, orders it, arranges it in levels, establishes it in series, distinguishes between what is relevant and what is not, discovers unities, describes relations.” In a sense, one can view Matt Mullican’s work in these terms, with his concept of the city taking the place of Foucault’s document. With his intricate, personalized system of signs and images drawn from the observable world, Mullican’s project seems infinite.

When faced with the immense size of the Magasin, there has been a tendency for artists either to overload the space or to minimize their intervention. Mullican’s decision to include five separate, yet integrally related projects, takes advantage of the space as a perfect arena for playing out a game of scale and makes the space a function of the works themselves.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the pieces that occupy the enormous main gallery, called “la rue.” Embedded into the top of a series of concrete blocks, and arranged like a playground, are various references to Mullican’s system of signs. Belying the inevitable austerity of this 128-ton piece is a lightness of tone that transcends the physical properties of a particular material.

Behind the concrete piece, a huge black banner, featuring recognizable as well as mysterious signs, that stretches from the ceiling to the floor, forms both an extension and a counter to the stone piece. As one approaches, three more banners come into view. It is an understatement to call Mullican’s work multidimensional; the ability of these works to communicate on various levels (scale, color, iconography, etc.) is witness to their inexhaustibility as signifying objects.

The use of various media has also been integral to Mullican’s description of the world, and nowhere is this more apparent than here. Bulletin boards, banners, posters, glass, carved stone, rubbings, computerized images, and found objects come together like an inventory of the various means of description available to the artist.

Assembling evidence, initiating relationships, striking balances between disparate elements, Mullican resembles a scientist who is never satisfied with the results of his own experiments; for him doubt works hand in hand with certainty. This is evident in the untitled computer project of 1989, where the element of perfection or finality is balanced by investigation, or in the untitled project he realized at MIT in 1990, where the order of the artist’s arrangement of a cross-section of the city is contrasted with the disorder of the adjoining room littered with personal and professional detritus. For Mullican, order is both a goal and the ultimate illusion.

Michael Tarantino