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Allan McCollum. Collection of Forty Plaster Surrogates. 1982 (cast and painted in 1984)

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Allan McCollum (American, born 1944)

Collection of Forty Plaster Surrogates

1982 (cast and painted in 1984)
Enamel on cast Hydrostone
Forty panels ranging from 5 x 4 1/8" (12.8 x 10.2 cm) to 20 1/4 x 16 1/4" (51.3 x 41.1 cm), overall 64" x 9' 2" (162.5 x 279.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Robert and Meryl Meltzer and Robert F. and Anna Marie Shapiro Funds
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Allan McCollum
Audio Program excerpt

MoMA2000: Open Ends

, September 28, 2000-March 4, 2001

Artist, Allan McCollum: When I first started painting, which was around the late 1960s, early 1970s, there was a lot of interest in defining what a painting was—how it was separate from a sculpture.

At the time I was a janitor, and I would be working at night and I would see other offices and apartment buildings, and I'd look in and I'd see objects that I knew were art works. And I would think to myself, "Well, how do I know they're art works?" I became interested in that moment.

I came up with an image and a kind of object that to me, seemed to symbolize a painting. It was a frame, a mat, an opening in the mat and something black inside. So when the painting was on the wall, it was only a sort of stand in for a painting, which is the way the word surrogate came to mind.

The more and more I made installations, the more I felt that I was creating a performance, in the way that people would walk around the gallery to look at each one, as if they were looking at content, but, in fact, they were just experiencing themselves walking around the gallery looking at art.

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 56

McCollum has clustered together what appear to be forty monochromatic paintings of various sizes in the dense display style of a nineteenth-century salon. The works are not framed paintings, however, but plaster objects whose black surfaces yield no images or painterly incident. By endowing these cast objects—nearly identical plaster forms with painted perimeters and central "pictures" of uniformly applied black enamel—with the bare-bones characteristics of paintings, McCollum confounds viewers' expectations, heightening their awareness of how they recognize and act toward art.

To produce this work, McCollum and his assistants engaged in repetitive and communal labor. To a degree, he transformed the artist's studio into an assembly line and a workshop and systematized the artistic process into stages of production: create molds, cast plaster, apply enamel paint. Although the panels were all executed in this way, no two panels share the same dimensions and frame color. Handmade but standardized, Collection of Forty Plaster Surrogates integrates art and mass production. McCollum asks viewers to rethink conventional distinctions between types of labor and to take into consideration the human effort embedded in all objects, artistic and otherwise.

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