in Critic's Guides | 01 MAR 11
Featured in
Issue 137

Ideal Syllabus: Matt Mullican

The artist lists the books that have influenced him

in Critic's Guides | 01 MAR 11

I once saw a sign in the window of Printed Matter in New York, which read ‘In the future all books will be maps’. Scrawled on the glass in front of the sign was ‘Fuck You’.
I would rather not express my point of view on the books listed, opting instead to describe/express them through their architecture, the tables of contents or selected excerpts. My attempt is to describe the books without adjectives, with a few exceptions.

Edward Tufte
Envisioning Information
(Graphics Press, Connecticut, 1990)
The first paragraph of the introduction to Envisioning Information reads: ‘The world is complex, dynamic, multidimensional; the paper is static, flat. How are we to represent the rich visual world of experience and measurement on mere flatland?’
The table of contents:
‘Escaping Flatland
Micro/Macro Readings,
Layering and Separation
Small Multiples
Color and Information
Narratives of Space and Time’

A. R. Luria
The Mind of a Mnemonist
(Harvard University Press, 1968)
The mnemonist cannot forget anything. He remembers everything: ‘So powerful is his imagery that the man can easily drive his pulse up by imagining running.’
The table of contents:
‘The Beginning of the Research
His Memory
The Initial Facts
Words and Images
The Art of Forgetting
His World
People and Things
His Mind
His Strong Points
His Weak Points
His Control of Behavior
The Objective Data
A Few Words About Magic
His Personality’

A. R. Luria
The Man with a Shattered World
(Harvard University Press, 1987)
This book describes the damage done to a man’s life by a bullet that penetrated his brain.
The table of contents:
‘The Past
After Being Wounded
The Rehabilitation Hospital
Our First Meeting
Excerpt from Case History No. 3712
A Brief Summary of Brain Anatomy (The First Digression,)
First Steps in a Shattered World
His Vision
His Body
A Student Again
Writing, the Turning Point
‘The Story of a Terrible Brain Injury’
Why Did He Write
‘My World Has No Memories’
‘My Memories Came Back From the Wrong End’
The Peculiar Feature of His ‘Speech-Memory’
On Recollecting Words (The Second Digression)
Restricted to Undeciphered Images
Disembodied Ideas
Grammatical Constructions (The Third Digression)
‘All My Knowledge is Gone’
A Story That Has No Ending
‘Were It Not for War…’ (In place of an Epilogue)’

Andy Warhol
A: a novel
(Grove Press, New York, 1968)
A is for A. A is for amphetamines. I’ve never finished this book, but have lived with it since I was a teenager. The air in it is thick; it’s hard to keep your bearings. Its aim is to somehow hold onto everything that’s constantly changing and disappearing, what’s left is the velocity of that decay. What happens when the artist accepts the world around him to be equal to his work? What happens when the artist accepts his work to be the world around him? Warhol was a great voyeur and traveller. Always using spyglasses to see the details of what was happening around him and thus protecting himself from their toxicity. The book is a perfect object.

Alfred Frankenstein
The Reality of Appearance
(University Art Museum, Berkeley, 1970)
The clipping reads: ‘Mr Chalfant proposes to past a real stamp on the canvas beside his painting and the puzzling question will be which is which?’
The picture is 19th-century. The notation for plate #105 reads:
‘105 Jefferson David Chalfant, Which Is Which?, n.d.
Oil and postage stamp on enameled copper, 5x7.
Collection Ernest Jarvis, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.’
Chalfant pastes a real two-cent stamp next to a painted one and, with a painted newspaper clipping beneath, challenges the beholder to tell the difference. In the 80-odd years since this was done, the real stamp has faded until it is almost illegible. The painted counterfeit is as good today as it was on the day that Chalfant put it there. On which note we lower the curtain on The Reality of Appearance.’

Harald Szeemann
Documenta 5 Catalogue
(Documenta GmbH, Kassel, 1972)
The table of contents reads:
‘Critical Theories of the Aesthetic Topic
Audiovisual preface
Realism and Emblematizing of the Trivial
World of Pictures and Piety
Two Examples of Societal
Political Propaganda
Science Fiction today, seen from Yesterday
Utopia / Tomorrow seen from Today
Game and Reality
Picture-making of the Mentally Disabled
Museums of Artists
Social Realism
Individual Mythology- Self-Depiction/Presentation, Process,
Idea, Idea and Light,
Register of the Works of the Exhibition
Overall Bibliography
Calendar of Incidents
After 1: Text
After 2: Picture
After 3:Press
Register of Photography’

Henry Dreyfus
Symbol Sourcebook, an Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols
(John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1972)
The single most important book that I refer to in my work. Symbol Sourcebook indexes signs through subjects such as: traffic, engineering, sports, agriculture, and through graphic form such as: circle, oval, triangle, square. The representation of meaning through colours is defined through many cultures. For example the colour red has positive associations of life, warmth, passion, sentiment, valour, patriotism, revolution, Christ, liberty. Negative associations are listed: blood (spilled), fire (burning), death throes and sublimation, wounds, surging and tearing emotions, passions, war, anarchy, revolution, martyrdom, danger, the devil.
Basic Symbols: Disciplines:
Accommodations and Travel
Handling of Goods
Home Economics
Vehicle Controls

For more than 30 years, New York- and now Berlin-based artist Matt Mullican has created a complex body of work concerned with systems of knowledge, meaning, language and signification. He will have two exhibitions in Munich in June – a retrospective at the Haus der Kunst and a solo show at Galerie Daniel Blau – and a solo show at Tracy Williams Gallery, New York, in November. Forthcoming group exhibitions include the 3rd Singapore Biennale in March; ‘Berlinaire’ in Vooruit, Belgium, in April; ‘Measuring the World’, Museum Joanneum, Graz, Austria in June; ‘ERRE, labyrinthine principles’ at the Centre Pompidou-Metz in September; and ‘CALIFORNIA über alles/Art in the Age of Pluralism 1974–81’, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in October.