Artist research: Allen McCollum

6 September 2017. My tutor suggested I have a look at a set within Allen McCollum’s (*1944, USA) famous surrogate paintings, basically empty frames painted in vivid colours and lined up in rows along a wall (McCollum, n.d.). Despite the connection my tutor tied (“where absence and shadow can speak volumes”), I was not attracted. The frames look rough, their colours haphazard. Looking at them again during a quiet minute they reminded me distantly of the multitude of doors leading to the childrens’ bedrooms in the great film “Monster Inc.”. In contrast to McCollum’s frames I find a real purpose to the doors besides serving as symbols for individual lives. Of course I can fill the absences in McCollum’s frames with whatever (shadows) I like, but this I can do with everything that is empty around me, so I do not really need the frames.
McCollum not only works with sets of blank frames, but also with multiples (similar but not the same) of drawings, sculptures or even collections of natural objects such as fulgurite tubes (glass lined hollow tubes formed where lightning strikes sand), which I was not happy to see either. I am having difficulties again with the lining up of multiples of objects into grids and rows, no matter how sophisticated the connection with some important human issue such as a discussion of the mass-produced versus individualized, the issue of a painting being an object representing itself and such like, in the late 20th century (ARTCenterMFA, 2015). At the risk of outing myself, again, as a philistine, the addressed issues feel vastly insubstantial to me in the face of the enormousness of the universe and the mystery of life. The produced objects are sometimes attractive, more often nice to look at, but this is where my interest ends somehow. I believe that most repetitive patterns look attractive to the human mind because they are aesthetically pleasing, but this does not automatically make them qualify as works of art. Is this the same sort of decoration my tutor saw in the first stages of my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017)? I am probably not the best person to judge here, because to me the umbrella is a multidimensional analysis of a highly personal legacy. However, I will be taking my own experience with McCollum’s work as a warning to myself, so that I do not wander, starry-eyed, into the same trap.


ARTCenterMFA (2015) Allan McCollum, Graduate Seminar 2/3/2015 [online]. Department of Graduate Art at Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. Available from: [Accessed 6 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: [Accessed 6 September 2017]

McCollum, A. (n.d.) Allan McCollum [online]. Allan McCollum, New York. Available from: [Accessed 6 September 2017]