Matt Mullican

The Jewish community of Vienna is erecting an eruv. This is a symbolic wall, the ritual extension of a private space up to an agreed-upon boundary, whose purpose is to make life easier for Orthodox Jews observing Shabbat. Architecture critics have called it rabbinic urbanism. Matt Mullican’s urbanism is not dissimilar in its rabbinic acumen and cognizance of the relative nature of reality, but his purpose is to explore perception as an interpretation of an existing, visible reality. His starting point here was what he calls the labyrinth of the Kargl gallery—which begins at a back alley storefront, goes down a spiral staircase and then up more stairs, past a piazza, into the main, skylit exhibition space, and ends in a dark alcove.

This made for ideal conditions for Mullican’s cosmology, aptly permitting a spatial sequencing of up and down, heaven and hell, light and dark, closeness and openness, in a way that explains nothing less than the world itself. Along an Ariadne’s thread of symbology, Mullican led the viewer through a five-part ordering system. Green stands for matter, the physical elements; blue is the world of objects (what Mullican called “the world unframed”). Both colors were represented in the entrance area at street level, where one saw, among other things, a box of animal bones, armchairs from the gallery, and low walls, brightly painted. Yellow denotes creative forces and art (“the world framed”). In the basement, yellow collided with the black and white of signs, concepts, and language. Finally, the exhibition concluded with the red of subjectivity, the bright light of the mind, in the main space of the gallery.

The main space was the aesthetic center of the installation, wherein a modular system of lattices and bed linens with glued-on drawings, photographs, magazine clippings, menus, and journal entries alternated with abstract frottages depicting psychic energy. Some of these works were created under hypnosis and describe the biography of “that person,” an alter ego of Mullican’s, who likes coffee, Christmas, and the Wall Street Journal, and who sleeps without dreaming. Mullican explains this complex psychobiography in a video lecture. He reveals the low opinion his friend Lawrence Weiner has of hypnosis, and says it would be out of the question for Weiner to ever sit down and have a drink with “that person.”

As a new visual symbol in his personal language of signs, Mullican has introduced the vitrine, placing it in the “world framed” category; painted yellow inside, four of these were pushed up against the wall. Minimalist sculptures, they contained calligraphic drawings of words, parts of words, and number sequences, as well as some small tin objects, like casts of personal belongings from the artist’s pockets. Bits of plants and bones seemed to evoke ciphers of molecular structure. In a way, the vitrines function as boxes about the thinking process, as containers in which Mullican plays out the potential of his manifold associations, their contrasts and mirrorings evoking the great common whole that Mullican has been creating over the years.

Brigitte Huck

Translated from German by Laura Hoffmann.