Friday, October 08, 2004

Allan McCollum Is Not Locked In
By Barbara Rosenthal

  Allan McCollum Perpetual Photo. 1982/90 Sepia toned Gelatin Print Courtesy of the artist and the Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York

It is admirable when an artist is not locked in to a particular style, visual expectation or set of presumptions, but instead feels free enough and confident enough in their own equilibrium to allow their mind whatever paths or flights of exploration it pursues. Such an artist is Allan McCollum.

"Perpetual Photos & The Recognizable Image Drawings from the Kansas and Missouri Topographical Model Donation Project" comprises two rooms containing three groups of disparate artworks. In the front room are soft-focus, large-grained, high-contrast, amorphous black and white gelatin-silver photographs from McCollum's "Perpetual Photos" series, begun in 1982. In the back room, hanging in a grid along one wall, is "Recognizable Image Drawings," a suite of over 40 small rectilinear geometric black shapes in 8" x 8" frames, and lying in a vitrine is a pair of white, cast Hydrostone topographical models of Kansas and Missouri (flat states, so not much relief), less than a foot and a half on their longest dimensions.

Why are the fuzzy, but stirring pictures called "Perpetual Photos?" First, although unrecognizable, the images are representative (albeit not representational). McCollum says they are vastly enlarged sections of an "indecipherable image in the background of a television scene." The full image, unseen, is pasted behind the frame. What interests him is that the enlargements "invite a futile impulse to use logic in an attempt to discover an emotional truth." He calls them "Perpetual," because of the nature of a broadcast image in an "unending universe," and "no matter how many times you enlarge the ... blurs ... you're no closer to any answers," which, of course, is otherwise with scientific enlargements.

Although the "Recognizable Image Drawings" appear to be nonrepresentational minimalist stencils, they are actually handmade graphite drawings of all 220 counties, created for his 2003 show at Grand Arts Gallery in Kansas City, shapes recognizable as such only to locals. The white Hydrostone slabs of the "Model Donation Project" were produced to supplement a smaller, finely crafted polychromed, glazed ceramic edition for that show, and afterwards offered free to historical society museums to paint, finish and display as they wish.

So what are the relationships between these projects? First, the public nature of the original image and idea. Second, the reincarnation, transformation, and continuation of an initially manifested image and idea. Third, the breakdown of the original image into less complex forms, as well as its decolorization. Fourth, reductivism and starkness. And finally, fifth, the involvement of handwork with mass production.