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Matt Mullican

The Drawing Center, New York, USA


Matt Mullican, Untitled (1985)

Channeling something like the spirit of Doctor Daniel Paul Schreber crossed with Jorge Luis Borges, Matt Mullican’s drawings dominate the walls of The Drawing Center.  Less an ordered retrospective than a selection of work from across the years, the exhibition is equal parts visceral experience and intellectual exercise. Mullican’s works on paper are paranoid, obsessive and possibly schizophrenic, yet they are also full of humour and intelligence.  In many ways, Mullican’s practice is better characterized as picture-making than drawing.  The marvelously diverse images range from the runic to the cosmological to the thoroughly modern. 


Mullican creates a singular background of myths and histories, and it is the dazzlingly hermetic nature of his world that makes ‘A Drawing Translates the Way of Thinking’ so Borgesian, in addition to Mullican’s preoccupation with cataloguing and a compulsion to order the world that is so strong it seems to edge back into chaos. Compulsion is at the core of the exhibition - and, with more than 200 individual works, the exhibition list is itself in obsessive ordering and confusion - whether that is expressed in the intricate images or the extended lists of words and numbers that repeat themselves throughout his work. 

Most striking is the video Untitled (Matt Mullican Under Hypnosis: Zurich) (2003), in which Mullican thrashes and contorts his body as he declaims a stream of repeated words and phrases.  At the core of these phrases is a repulsion directed toward the body, Mullican repeatedly crying, ‘I stink, I stink.’

This obsessive preoccupation with the corporeal reality of the body is found elsewhere in a series of drawings of stick figures that covers an entire wall.  Each is captioned with phrases such as ‘His Ganglion (Part of the Nerve Cell)’, ‘His Fat Cells’ and ‘Smelling His Body’.  It’s here, as in the video, that Mullican most strongly recollects Freud’s celebrated analysis of Schreber, the paranoid schizophrenic who believed his body was radiating sun beams (and who had fantasies of being sodomized by God). Like Schreber, Mullican is also fascinated by the idea of heaven and hell, of cosmology, and the way this vast territory of belief is sustained by the fragile human body.  It’s the terrifying chasm between the two that is constantly expressed in the work, but also the ecstatic horror that occurs when the two are finally bridged.

Katie Kitamura


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About this review

Published on 22/12/08
by Katie Kitamura

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