EventMarch 9 - January 26, 2020

Matt Mullican’s Between Sign and Subject at the de Young museum

Matt Mullican’s Between Sign and Subject will be at the de Young museum until January 2020 | Image: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Until January 2020, San Francisco’s de Young museum will display Between Sign and Subject, a mixed media exhibition from CalArts alum Matt Mullican (Art BFA 74).

Throughout his four-decade career, Mullican has engaged with drawing, collage, painting, photography, video, sculpture, installation and performance under hypnosis. Based between New York and Berlin, he is best known, according to Artnet, for his “exploration of the subjective experience through the intersection of communal signage with personal semiotics.”  

Between Sign and Subject brings together both old and new works from Mullican, including some of his signature pieces from the 1980s as well as recent pieces made specifically for this exhibition. Central to Mullican’s work is his own invented color-based cosmology, which exists across several mediums. His visual system of colors and related symbols is broken up into five distinct worlds:

  • The material world, identified by the color green;
  • Everyday life, identified by the color blue;
  • The world of culture and science, identified by the color yellow;
  • The world of language, identified by both black and white;
  • The world of subjective experience, identified by the color red.

Through this categorization system, Mullican attempts to “make sense of existence” while operating from the understanding that reality is subjective and largely based on perception. In his work from the 1970s and 80s, Mullican represented this system through bulletin boards adorned with household items, drawings of studio views and cut-out comics, among other objects. From the 1980s onward, Mullican rendered his organizational charts as maps of a fictitious city. In 1986, he partnered with Digital Productions, a Hollywood IT company, to develop his system virtually. The Computer Project (1986 – 1990) is a virtual reality recreation of his fictitious city, represented in the project by Untitled, a series of light boxes made with the computer graphics generated for the project.

Another central piece in Between Sign and Subject is Living in that World, a collection of 40 rubbings. The practice of rubbing dates back to ancient China and traditionally involves lying paper over a carved stone and rubbing its surface to reveal the impressions. The rubbings in Living in that World hover between drawing, print and painting, and reflect Mullican’s ongoing investigation of the gap between object and symbol.

Between Sign and Subject is Mullican’s first solo project in the United States since 2006 and is a testament to the expansive body of art he has created in the past four decades. His work can also be found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., to name a few. In recent years, he has participated in collective exhibitions including the 55th Venice Biennale, Singapore Biennale, 28th São Paulo Art Biennial and the Whitney Biennial.

Tickets to Between Sign and Subject can be purchased on the de Young website.

Event Details

Between Sign and Subject

de Young museum
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco
Hours: Tuesdays – Sundays, 9:30 am-5:15 pm

$15 General Admission
$6 Students

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