“The Feeling of Things” @ Salone Milan 2018

“The Feeling of Things” @ Salone Milan 2018

The Feeling of Things” at the Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan is an retrospective exhibition by American artist Matt Mullican ( born in 1951 in Santa Monica, California )

Pirelli HangarBicocca is showing more than forty years of Matt’s work, starting from the 1970s when, as a pupil of John Baldessari, he attended the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia (USA), the school supported by—among others—Walt Disney, right up his most recent works produced especially for this Milan exhibition.

matt mullican

The exhibition, curated by Roberta Tenconi, occupies the 5,500 square meters of the Navate and Cubo of Pirelli HangarBicocca.

This is the most extensive exhibition ever presented by Matt Mullican, with more than 5000 works, 6000 objects installed, filling the gargantuan Pirelli HangarBicocca display space

The exhibition itinerary as a whole presents us with the artist’s prolific production and the extraordinary variety of media used : sculpture, large-scale installations, paper-based works, as well as ones in glass, stone, metal, posters, multiples and editions, neon lights, photographs, paintings carried out using the frottage technique, videos, performances, lightboxes and computer-based projects as well as virtual reality.

Mullican’s artistic practice constantly tackles and examines the relation between reality and perception, and providing structure for every aspect of the human condition.

Is there a feeling about things ?  ……   How do humans perceive the world ?

Matt offers a visual vocabulary capable of interpolating traditions, scientific studies, beliefs and cultures of different times and places in order to ponder the age-old existential questions and the most profound and hermetic aspects of life.


11.04.2018 Opening | Matt Mullican "The Feeling of Things"

#MattMullicanEcco il video dell'inaugurazione della mostra "The Feeling of Things" dedicata al lavoro di Matt Mullican. Attraversate gli immensi spazi delle Navate e del Cubo insieme ai nostri visitatori durante l'opening e venite a trovarci anche voi, siamo aperti dal giovedì alle domenica dalle 10 alle 22! Ingresso libero #ArtToThePeopleVideo: Francesco Margaroli

Posted by Pirelli HangarBicocca on Friday, 13 April 2018


Visitors are invited to explore this space, moving through a major rectangular architectural structure, split into five areas of different colors, the connotations of which hark back to the iconic cosmologies of the artist.

In a continuous attempt to explain and structure what is around him, Mullican has been working since the early 1970s to develop a complex system of models and vocabulary that he calls the “ five worlds” : a particular system of representation of reality made up of images, pictograms, icons, codes, signs, symbols and colors, corresponding to different levels of perception and represented by five colors:

Green for physical, material elements;

Blue for everyday life (the “world unframed”);

Yellow where objects become valuable, as in art (the “world framed”);

Black and white for language and symbols; and

Red for subjectivity and ideas.



Matt Mullican at Pirelli Hangarbicocca 2018 Exhibition Guide

The Feeling of Things is accompanied by a catalog focusing on Matt Mullican’s photographic production, which for the first time features a compendium of all the photographs shot by the artist, from his analogical images of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, up to his more recent digital images

The catalog includes text contributions from Marie-Luise Angerer, Matt Mullican, Anne Rorimer, Tina Rivers Ryan, Roberta Tenconi, James Welling, and Helene Wyner.


God, this is amazing. This show is the largest of my life so far. I had to build many walls to hold my ideas. It’s an immense, extraordinary, impossible task, to map the world within us. And I’m talking about every individual world. One can try and paint it, write it, act it out, dance it, play it as in a piece of music, but it is not going to happen.

This space is so overwhelming. Every show that I do is a survey show and this is the first one that I’ve done where I build the architecture, it’s like I was giving a blank slate to build up a museum for myself.

I’m working with chemicals inside the viewer’s body. When it walks into a big empty space like this your body feels it, now my job is to make it bigger. You see all the space, always, I’m going from edge to edge, from ceiling (the flags create the scale and become architecture) to floor, and all in between.

I don’t think I will ever have an experience like this again in my life.

This exhibition looks like it’s a computer image, an interface. The MIT Project – which is included in the show – has a series of low walls like we have in this installation; this came into my body of work after I went into virtual reality.

This is an architecture of organisation, based on cataloguing information, so it’s an architecture very much related to the phone, it’s as if I were to build an interface that you can walk through ” ……………… Matt Mullican


The artist’s research and the very structure of his exhibition reflect the rich theme of subjectivity in our perception of reality; a plunge into his works has allowed to build a relationship between five chromatic areas of ideas.

An impressive rectangular architectural structure allows the visitors to examine and explore a vast iconographic material and a mix of media used for the exhibition and its installations.


Mullican’s work is a perfect match for the Hangar space. No walls, but a single big sculpture to walk around ”,…………. curator Roberta Tenconi.



Exhibition – List of Works on show


Mullican’s oeuvre gives abstract yet illuminating answers to fundamental questions about human existence and thought, explained using a word he recites with emphasis, “feeling.”

The question is often whether we think in words or in pictures, but I believe it’s neither, I believe thought is much more emotional and contextual, like music playing, like the feeling when a mathematician solves a problem.” ……………… Matt Mullican



About Matt Mullican and Experimental Hypnosis

In addition to the Art Show incorporating numerous sculptures, paintings, works in glass, metal, stone, neon, photographs, virtual reality, lightboxes, videos, Matt will also undergo a process of hypnosis on May 26 with hypnotist Vicente De Moira.

Since the 1970s Mullican has been experimenting with hypnosis to create art that both examines his subconscious, and functions as a strategy for breaking from the patterns of everyday life.

Matt explores his subconscious mind through the practice of hypnosis and of states of profound concentration and trances.

His work explores the way in which hypnosis alters behaviour and seems to expose what lies behind the façade of identity.

The symbols and shapes that he paints during the performance are a visual counterpoint to this inner journey, and point to the strong relationship between the unconscious mind and creativity.



In the state of the induced trance, Matt claims that he becomes another person, quite unlike himself, known as “ That Person ” : an ageless and sexless entity that inhabits his physical body, yet with its own personality, and one capable of producing works of art.

That Person’s ” reality is documented through a series of performances wherein he draws, counts, and writes with ink on large sheets of easel paper .

The finished drawings are attached to queen-sized bed sheets in a grid-like pattern, and hung through a maze of installation rooms that acts as a diagram of  ” That Person’s ” reality (or, arguably, of Mullican’s subconscious).



The process to which the artist is subjected during these sessions functions as a catalyst for the creation of pictures, which in turn arise from the analysis or experimentation of an iconographic universe projected and interpreted through pictograms, cosmogonies, architecture or fictional characters who function as the artist’s “alter ego”.

Through hypnosis, Mullican places himself in a position of otherness; he becomes ” That Person “, a preliminary figure who, either through the simple banality of everyday objects and actions or through the aggressiveness of schizoid behaviour, allows him to “enter the image”, as he himself has said on numerous occasions.



” Hypnosis: a fiction where the actors believe it.!

How do we determine fiction from non-fiction ? Non-fiction is when your body gives you the chemicals that are real.

In 1977, I wanted to make a theatre that was real, where the actors really felt what they were doing, and I did it with actors playing in a trance. I had a negative response to this performance and from the next one I started putting myself under hypnosis. By doing it, I realise that we are always in a trance, because there is a part of me that’s never here and the other one that’s always here – now that we have smartphones you see bizarre things on the street, people who are not where you see them because they are on their phones taking photographs or finding where they are, etc.

They are in this other world, the world that I’m interested in.

After going into virtual reality, hypnosis became more interesting to me; in virtual reality there were – this was primitive – sensors and a tape square on the floor that you had to stay inside. When I was invited to be in some exhibitions having to do with these virtual environments, I though just to tape a square on the ground and I hired a hypnotist who told me that the conditions were different once I entered in that perimeter – he told me that there were 24 degrees below zero into the square, so I entered and I was freezing, my body truly started shaking.

What happened is that the square becomes a border for the mind and it propped me back into That Person who also became the artist who in 2005 created those seven rooms for the exhibition at the Ludwig Museum. ” …………………………….. Matt Mullican


What is interesting is that Mullican himself is a trained artist, someone involved in the established art scene, but that person may or may not be—even Mullican is unsure.

The process of creation allows him to seamlessly move between these two worlds, unclear of where the distinction ends between what could be art of the insane, the subconscious, and the art of the formally trained.



Recently Mullican recounted a time when he began to act like that person while not under hypnosis, and his children worriedly told him he was actually becoming ” That Person “.

Perhaps Mullican has found a way to successfully tap the subconscious, in the spirit of the Surrealists, albeit a little too closely.



Cube Building

In the Cube, Matt has planned out more than 70 Rubbings: paintings carried out using the frottage technique, produced from 1984 onwards, which entirely cover the four large walls of the Cube.

Particularly evocative is the Dallas Project (1987), originally conceived for the Dallas Museum of Art and presented here in its third version (Dallas Project (Third Version), 1987), made up of around 400 black-and-white sheets, bringing together Mullican’s entire cosmology.


Among the other major projects shown is Untitled (Two into One becomes Three) (2011), a large-scale work in yellow and black,

Also striking are the 449 carved magnesium boards which make up Untitled (New Edinburgh Encyclopedia Project) (1991) –  reliefs of the pages of an encyclopedia owned by Mullican and copied out here in great detail, on 49 boards placed in the center of the room.



” If I am dealing with fiction, the most important fiction is religion; this is a fiction that becomes really dangerous. But if you go back into the history of the world, into the history of art, you are going to go straight to religion.

I grew up without any religion, but when I was a child I had a big fantasy so I came out asking myself “Where was I before I was born?” or imagining myself choosing my parents, etc.

So I created my cosmology, which answers the questions: “Where was I before I was born?”; “Why do things happen the way they do when I live my life?” and “What happens after I die?”. This is what a cosmology does, it contextualizes life.

All cosmologies do this, mine is not a cosmology because a cosmology is fundamentally social and mine is an artwork, it is a cosmogony. In this way, I started dealing with God, angels, demons, faith, heaven, hell. I’ve always had trouble because of those subjects, which are at the core of the history of art.

But today it’s a difficult subject to deal with and some people become nervous about this side of my work, but I want this tension, I want this problem, I embrace it. ”  ………………….. Matt Mullican





Mullican draws on elements taken from the world of film and comics, from contemporary communication icons, from the signposting in airports and images derived from various traditions—such as Hindu mandalas, tantric imagery and Hopi Indian symbols—not to mention sources of a primordial nature (also relative to the idea of birth and death, of fate and destiny), as well as from scientific illustrations, giving rise to his personal pictograms

The Exhibition continues along the nave with eight red banners (Untitled, 1986)—originally featured on the façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles—, and one yellow banner from the series of ten, designed for the large glass windows of the Neue National Galerie in Berlin (Untitled, 2006), that frame the space to reflect the colors and symbols of the cosmology of the  ” Five Worlds ”.

The 5 x colourful Worlds represent a real cosmology of the American artist’s universe, analysing different levels of the way we perceive and understand reality.

These analytic areas will also be supported by an exploration of the unconscious dimension through hypnosis.

Knowledge through a state of trance and deep concentration, in which Mullan feels ageless and asexual, but always with a strong dedication to the creation of his artworks



Organized into five colour-coded ‘worlds’, with curator Roberta Tenconi, Mullican has taken a ‘more is more’ approach to his retrospective.

Red Area

The first area that we find is made up of a large red semicircle, in which a series of works are presented that sound out the most remote meanders of the artist’s psyche and subjectivity, introducing the figure of That Person, such as Untitled (Learning from That Person’s Work) (2005).

The work, made up of a great labyrinth of sheets bearing a series of drawings produced by That Person, displays an interweaving of texts, numbers, images and diagrams, revealing various aspects of its personality.


Black Area

The exhibition continues with the area inherent to the theme of communication and language, represented by the color black, in which—on tables and on more than 120 bulletin boards, the display system commonly used by the artist and consisting of simple wooden surfaces—a vast collection is displayed of works on paper, including drawings, photographs, book projects, prints and pages from his notebooks, obsessively compiled by Mullican.

In this black-colored space, various books are also presented in which Mullican couples texts, notes and drawings with photographic images or ones taken from internet or famous publications.

With each page stapled onto the bulletin boards, the selection includes: Notating the Cosmology (1973-2008); Untitled (Histoire Illustree de la Fonction Cerebrale) (2011); The Meaning of Things (2014); Illustrated Anthology of Sorcery. Magic and Alchemy (2016) and Man and his Symbols (2016).

What’s more, for the occasion of the exhibition, the artist opens his own photographic archive, presenting a selection of more than 2,000 photos for the first time, from his analogical shots of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s right up to his more recent digital images.


Yellow Area

In the center of the exhibition itinerary, we come to the yellow area, which symbolizes the world of culture, science and art, in which a series of works is featured drawing on the order of the entire exhibition.

The main, original matrix of the display is the M.I.T. Project (1990), a meta-architectural structure in which objects and materials of various kinds are organized according to a predetermined order.

The installation was presented for the first time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge in a solo show held by the artist—later shown in a number of variants, including one displayed at documenta IX in 1992 in Kassel—and now part of the MACBA collection in Barcelona.

This project originated from the development of a previous work, Computer Project (1986-1989), in which—in a truly pioneering manner for that period—Mullican created a virtual map of an imaginary city.

Also a separate yellow area, not accessible to the public and only visible from the outside, is set aside as an ideal studio for That Person, with everyday objects and furnishings that characterize its life, as well as two major sculptures from the 1970s which represent the stylization of a person: Head and Body (1973) and Sleeping Child (1973)


Blue Area

“The Feeling of Things” continues with the blue section, dedicated to the world of everyday life, where the artist once more presents the theme of the ideal city, through paper-based works, ones using granite and glass as well as lightboxes.

In Untitled (1989), a spinoff of his Computer Project, Mullican creates a series of lightboxes on which computer-generated images and views taken from this work are presented.

What’s more, in this area, a series of films and videos are shown, ranging from early footage shot on Super 8 in the 1970s, with which Mullican described the world around him, to his famous Elevated (2005): a poetic portrait of the city of New York based on found footage dating back to 1934 and with a soundtrack by David Lang.


Green Area

The overall structure is completed with the green area, which in Matt Mullican’s cosmology represents the natural world, that of material and elements.

Here the artist shows a selection of readymade objects, several coming from the collections of city civic museum, such as bones, stuffed animals, stones, bugs, seeds and minerals, lent by the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale in Milan, but also exemplars of generators and machines for the production of steam, which belong to the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci.

The section also features two of Mullican’s earliest works, Light Patterns (1972) and Color Light Patterns Under Green Light (1972): pieces of colored card exposed to various sources of light, with which the nature of human perception and its relativity is investigated.


The exhibition also shows four hanging banners, among the largest ever produced by the artist and originally commissioned for the spaces of Le Magasin in Grenoble in 1990.

Where the Red colour dominates around the labyrinthine works dedicated to human psyche.

Subsequently Black, Yellow, Blue and Green come along with all Mullican’s iconic works:




Setting up the exhibition ” The Feeling of Things ”  Feb 2018



Roberta Tenconi and Matt Mullican (c)

The exhibition will be open to the public until September 16.

It will host the artist for the hypnosis performance on May 26, and a lecture of 3, a concert and a video projection on May 10.


The Feeling of Things by Matt Mullican
Curated by Roberta Tenconi

From April 12 to September 16 2018
@ Pirelli Hangar Bicocca
Via Chiese 2, Milan
Free admittance



About Pirelli HangarBicocca

Pirelli HangarBicocca is a non-profit foundation, established in 2004, which has converted a former industrial plant in Milan into an institution for producing and promoting contemporary art.

This dynamic center for experimentation and discovery covers 15,000 square meters, making it one of the largest contiguous exhibition spaces in Europe.

It presents major solo shows every year by Italian and international artists, with each project conceived to work in close relation to the architecture of the complex, and explored in depth through a calendar of parallel events.

Admission to the space and the shows is completely free of charge, and facilitators are on hand to help the public connect with the art. Since 2013, Vicente Todolí has been the foundation’s Artistic Director.

The complex, which once housed a locomotive factory, includes an area for public services and educational activities, and three exhibition spaces whose original twentieth-century architectural features have been left clearly visible: Shed, Navate, and Cubo.

As well as its exhibitions program and cultural events, Pirelli HangarBicocca also permanently houses one of Anselm Kiefer’s most important site-specific works, The Seven Heavenly Palaces 2004-2015, commissioned for the opening of Pirelli HangarBicocca.

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