Allan McCollum

I like to think of Allan McCollum as the Bizarro-Printmaker. Now, this isn’t just flimsy chatter about comic books (although I love flimsy chatter about comic books). Rather, it’s a carefully reasoned assessment of the artist’s work. Heck, the case is made by the work itself:

(images and text from the artist’s website)

Over Ten Thousand Individual Works, 1987/88.
Enamel on cast Hydrocal, each unique.

Drawings, 1989-93.
Pencil on museum board, each unique.

The Shapes Project, 2005-present.
A large quantity of unique shapes, one for every person on the planet.

This last project has deservedly received a lot of attention. McCollum has created a system for the producing “a large quantity of unique shapes, one for every person on the planet when the world population peaks in the middle of the twenty-first century.” He pointedly explains that this is not a ‘generative’ system accomplished by programming or scripting; it is a system by which he can individually create unique forms (in Illustrator), and monitor these forms in order to prevent repetition. The system has been designed so that a successor can complete the work, since McCollum will inevitably die before the project is finished.

Repetition, Originality, Exchange, Commodity: McCollum explores many issues that are of interest to contemporary printmakers, but through a cracked mirror. Does this explain why the artist’s actual multiples somehow fail to satisfy?

Check out Visible Markers (1997) and More Visible Markers in Twelve Exciting Colors (2000), each produced by I.C. Editions. The former piece involves the word “THANKS” embossed into a simple form, cast in concrete in an array of vivid colors; the latter is similar. Despite the hefty materiality of these objects, McCollum considers the work to be an art action of sorts, in the sense of “exchanging thanks,” or even “giving thanks.” The forms are produced in unlimited editions (although availability of Visible Markers is “limited,” and the newer edition is “sold out”).

Despite the quantities involved, and despite the beauty of the objects, neither edition packs the punch of McCollum’s other work. Formally, his art often impresses because the labors involved are self-evidently enormous, yet the presentation is breezy; he makes the whole thing seem easy. To be fair, the multiples explore exchange more than originality. If his overall creative objectives are not precisely the same, perhaps these pieces shouldn’t be judged by the same formal criteria. Still, somehow McCollum’s usual sense of scale is lost, to the detriment of the work.

…Having said that, my birthday’s comin’ up and Visible Markers would look great on my mantle.

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Categories: Artists, Critical Discourse, Interesting Printmaking

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