Magazine article Artforum International

Matt Mullican: KUNSTHALLE LA

Magazine article Artforum International

Matt Mullican: KUNSTHALLE LA

Article excerpt

The title "Matt Mullican: Works from the 1980s and 90s" is telling; it is during that era that Mullican gained entree into what is now known as the Pictures generation, appearing alongside artists such as Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince in such era-defining exhibitions as 1989's "Forest of Signs" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The Pictures artists seemed to share a vaguely melancholic understanding of modernism as a historical category and of contemporary art as a subset of the larger visual culture. And all recycled the most emblematically pared-down, abstract forms of modern art, using them as emptied-out vessels for a baroque content liberally imported from the "landscape" of mass media. This conflation of older and newer elements, both of them ready-made, was analyzed at the time as symptomatic of a "postmodern condition" that these artists had willfully contracted. But this is where the relation ends.

There is a comprehensive sweep to Mullican's practice, which takes in life, death, and everything in between, that is ultimately much more modern than post-. Absurd as it might seem, he really does set out to answer the most general question--What does it all mean?--and he docs so in the particular, through the construction of an increasingly complex ideational cosmology. Every part of our earthly and cosmic experience is scrupulously tabulated as a pictographic sign within an endlessly expanding and recombinant system. If, from one work to the next, the final answer continues to elude him, it is not for lack of trying. This conception of art as a totality machine is perhaps flawed, but it is certainly not built to break down.

Installed in the expansive space of kunsthalle LA, a Chinatown gallery jointly run by SolwayJones and Francois Ghebaly, the work was divided into four components: a single monumental rubbing-painting executed in oil-stick-on-canvas from cardboard cutout designs; five more modestly scaled granite bas-reliefs; a set of sixteen color etchings; and a portfolio of ten silk-screen prints and sixty-four etchings derived from the artist's notebooks. These various bodies of work are evidently linked, all of them partaking of the same symbolic lexicon that Mullican has made his own, albeit at different stages of development. …

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