Marlon Mullen at JTT Gallery through May 6 //

This is the artist’s second exhibition with JTT.


This selection of paintings, made between 2014 and 2017, marks the artist’s second solo show with the gallery. The presentation is roughly organized into three categories: paintings made from gallery exhibition advertisements, those made from publication covers, and those that are entirely text-based.

The south wall of the gallery features paintings that are made from advertisements of gallery exhibitions. In these works, the text is often restrained and mastered, while the images are expressive and geometric. Opposite the south wall are paintings made from the covers of publications such as Art in America, Artforum, Zoobooks and Marie Claire. In these examples, the text is integrated into the image, in the same manner as the source material is designed. In Untitled, 2017, Mullen copies a Thomas Hirschhorn image taken from the cover of the November 2014 issue of Art in America. In the original source, the publication’s logo is a bold black, whereas the artwork featured on the page consists of scribbled text in a dark blue ink pen. In Mullen’s version he carefully matches these two colors, but in his own expressive manner he weaves the text through hues of dark blues and deep blacks. The north section of the gallery features text-based paintings, which have more pastel tones and appear to be contemplative. In Untitled, 2016, he isolates the chapter number and title of a biography on Van Gogh so that they read together, “I: The Misfit.”

Mullen is autistic or, put another way, he has autism spectrum disorder, and is for the most part non-verbal. It isn’t entirely clear how much he can read in the same sense that you are reading this press release right now, but he certainly has his own understanding of meaning when it comes to words. Specifically regarding the content of his paintings, he has not verbally communicated at length his intent or fascination with the images that he copies. However, his paintings are sufficient in informing us of the nuances of what he sees.

Much about autism is still unknown. It wasn’t until 1980 that the DSM-III differentiated autism from childhood schizophrenia, and further it wasn’t until the 2013 version of DSM-V that a variety of disorders (PDD-NOS, Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Rett Sundry, and CDD) were removed to be replaced with the general term of Autism Spectrum Disorders. [1]  In his book, Neurodiversity, Steve Silberman argues that neurological diversity should be recognized and respected as a social category. He states that, “The idea of neurodiversity has inspired the creation of a rapidly growing civil rights movement based on the simple idea that the most astute interpreters of autistic behavior are autistic people themselves.”

In this spirit, NIAD and JTT have made the source material of Mullen’s paintings available for gallery visitors to view and compare with Mullen’s final versions. We feel as though this comparison is the most efficient way for Mullen to communicate for himself what his interests are.

[1] It should be noted that the original impetus for creating a standardized guide of diagnostic nomenclature for psychiatrists was in 1953 so that young men could receive Veteran benefits after returning from war without being branded mentally ill for life. This first DSM was a 132 page document and includes terms such as vagabondage, urge to say words and homosexual panic. The current DSM-V has 947 pages.