Of the artists who composed the Pictures Generation – Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine, David Salle, and others who appropriated images from various sources in their art – Matt Mullican, born in Los Angeles in 1951 to artist parents, and a student of John Baldessari at the California Institute of the Arts, always seemed to be off in his own world.
Looking at Mullican’s mid-1970s pictographs of everyday signs (say, the isolated male figure indicating the men’s room, or the lighted cigarette with the diagonal line crossing it) arranged in grids, you sensed there was something more to Mullican’s preoccupation with the simple symbols guiding civilized human behavior than met the eye.
It became known that Mullican’s art was a virtual map of his subconscious, those banal quotidian images stirred to the surface through his experiments with hypnosis. Since the ’70s, Mullican has given performances under hypnosis as well, tapping into his alter ego, which he refers to as “that person,” to make ink drawings on large sheets of paper (a video of “TateShots: Matt Mullican,” his disturbingly histrionic 2007 performance at London’s Tate Modern, is worth Googling).
That said, much of Mullican’s art was likely made not under hypnosis but rather through free association. A mini-survey of selected works from 1973 to 2014 organized by Sid Sachs, director of the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery at the University of the Arts, shows the full range of Mullican’s art (minus performance), including an oilstick-and-gouache rubbing on canvas, animations, a 1935 film by D.G. Oswald adapted by Mullican (with editing by Lisa Oppenheim and music by David Lang), written lists, cotton banners, an illustrated book of graphite rubbings, silk-screens, and etchings.
The star of the show is Mullican’s encyclopedic The Meaning of Things, a series of 676 collages and texts on paper made in 2014 that are arranged in grid formation, sprawled across three of the gallery’s walls. Each collage presents a single found image – cutout magazine illustrations and photographs, most likely downloaded from the Internet, populate the majority of them – attached to the center of a piece of paper. Mullican has drawn an Art Nouveau-style doodle in black ink around each image, and its respective number beneath it, in similarly curvaceous numerals.
The arrangements of images seem dictated by categories and their subgenres handwritten on pieces of paper at the beginning of the piece. These, interestingly, are the only works in this show that resemble the drawings of his I’ve seen that he has made under hypnosis, making me think this particular piece had its genesis in a hypnotic state.
A much smaller and eerier glimpse into Mullican’s taxonomic schemes is offered by “Elevated,” a montage of 16 mm found film footage originally shot in New York in 1935 by Oswald and assembled into its present form by Mullican in 2005 (he made an earlier adaptation in 1990). Clearly a kindred spirit, Oswald trained his movie camera on shopwindow arrangements of ladies’ hats, department-store Christmas displays, nocturnal Manhattan cityscapes, and other familiar scenes from that era, foreshadowing Mullican’s arrangements of the signs and symbols of his own time. The haunting accompanying music, men by David Lang, suits these elegiac visions to a T.
Through Feb. 26. Rosenwald- Wolf Gallery, University of the Arts, 333 S. Broad St., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 215-717-6480 or http://www.uarts.edu/about/rosenwald-wolf-gallery.
Expect to spend time with “No Food, No Money, No Jewels,” an installation by Simon Lee and Eve Sussman at Locks Gallery. I visited twice, and it was time well spent, especially the second time, when I ran into Lee and Sussman, who filled in the gaps for me and handed me a recently printed “playbill” not available the first time around.
What I initially assumed was an homage to George Orwell’s dystopian 1945 novella Animal Farm is actually a mash-up of the TV police procedural Stalker and A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Rooms, videos, and mirror sculptures tell a narrative of factory workers who look like ordinary people but behave like animals.
The second-floor gallery at Locks has been problematic for some artists, especially painters with solo shows, because of its columns, which can interfere with views. It’s also a vast space that can make an exhibition look unfinished when a group or solo show uses only its walls and not the interior. Sussman and Lee – perhaps more successfully than any other artists except Ellen Harvey – have claimed this gallery with remarkable aplomb.
Your eye will be drawn everywhere, from film footage of Jackie Kennedy and Richard Nixon, to interactions among hired actors channeling Milne’s tiger, pig, owl, bear, and donkey.
Through Feb. 25. Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square South, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-629-1000 or www.locksgallery.com. Through Feb. 25.
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