Michael Fullerton’s ‘Meaning Inc.’ at Greene Naftali

Michael Fullerton, ‘Meaning Inc.’; installation view, Greene Naftali

Michael Fullerton’s first exhibition at Greene Naftali, in 2006, was titled Get Over Yourself, an admonishment no doubt directed at artist and audience alike. It’s a phrase most often leveled when our interpretative or creative flights of fancy become overbearing; and if delivered just right, ‘Get over yourself’ can shine like a klieg light on even the best shit-into-Shinola thinking, revealing it for the turd-work it really is.

Such quick reversals are key to Meaning, Inc. as well, primarily because almost all of the work in the show – predominantly very well-executed portrait paintings, some in greater states of finish than others – comes across as a kind of set up. The portraits, each of different kinds of media types and icons (the victims and villains of our age of image power), are accompanied by lengthy wall texts that explain just who each figure is. Everything is laid bare, clear, including the feeling that someone is tugging at the rug beneath our feet.

There is the portrait, for example, of Samuel Goldwyn, The Producer (all work 2013), one of the founders of MGM. The wall text tells us how Goldwyn was born Gelbfisz in Poland and details his many successes as a Hollywood producer as well as how his name will forever be associated with MGM’s roaring-lion production logo. That logo isn’t pictured here, but a large screenprint diptych of a spotlit lion in profile appears in Trade-Mark, and a silkscreened closeup of another lion’s face constitutes the extent of This is Not Symbolic, This is Real (Lion From Majete Wildlife Reserve). But of course this picture is symbolic, not least in its non-symbolism when presented in the context of MGM, and Trade-Mark gets its double valence not only from the fact that it pictures the same lion twice but also from the right-hand print of the diptych, which emphasizes the streaks and registration effects that are signatures of the silkscreen process – ‘trade marks,’ get it?

There are other ‘ciphers’ at work, as in Ciphers I & II (Jean Harlow, MGM circa 1936), which picture the iconic ‘blonde bombshell,’ Jean Harlow, who died in 1937, as the wall text tells us, in the middle of filming Saratoga. Doubles were used to finish the film. The two most presumably indecipherable works in the show, Two Stars, Two Magnitudes (Polaris Due North. The traversal of Regulus, Due East Between 2001 hrs and 0302 hrs), which consists of two green lasers, one describing a line on the wall, the other a point, and Working Maquette for a Sculpture Entitled “Formalism – Sucking Corporate Cock Since 1968”, a cube of red, blue, and white police strobe lights, are pretty well explained by their titles.

For something to have meaning it requires two things: difference, a gap or interval between the thing itself and its representation (be it in paint, print, or memory); and intent, a will that animates that interval, that stands behind the gap. As all of the doubling in Meaning, Inc. would indicate, Fullerton is fascinated by meaning’s interval, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but his work risks a paradox of the ‘This-statement-is-false’ variety: if we take the work at face value, then we’re likely missing it’s meaning; and if we look past the work for that meaning, then we’re likely missing the work. Perhaps such irresolvable skepticism is what we’re meant to associate with the ‘Inc.’ of the show’s title. But then again, perhaps we’re just meant to get over ourselves.

This review appeared in the April 2014 issue of ArtReview.

Leave a Reply