Allan McCollum: Multiple Unique Forms

by Natalie on November 19, 2014 · 0 comments

Born in Los Angeles in the year 1944, artist Allan McCollum did not always intend to become an artist. He considered theater art, but when it came down to actually getting an education, he chose to study restaurant management and industrial kitchen work. It was in the late 1960s that he began to self-educate himself as an artist. Today, he uses art to explore the differences between unique works of art and mass production, questioning the “intrinsic value of the unique work of art”. (

His exhibitions consist of huge numbers of subtly different, relatively small objects. They are displayed equally spaced on multiple tables. When the tables themselves nearly fill the gallery room, the shear numbers of objects displayed are effectively overwhelming. Everything he creates is either individually cast in plaster or otherwise tediously constructed.

The extent to which McCollum is willing to experiment with various processes of creation is demonstrated in his exhibitions “Petrified Lightening from Central Florida” and “The Modern Man-Demon”. In the former, he created fulgurites, fused sediment forms in the shape of lightening created by lightning itself. In the latter exhibition, he used MRI scan data to cast his own heart and a female archeologist’s heart in basalt ( All of his works are highly labor intensive. Because each of the forms must be unique, they must be created individually.

mccollum the_fulgurite


Allan McCollum

Petrified Lightning from Central Florida (with supplemental Didactics), 1997

Fused zircon sand

“Actual fulgurite produced by the artist artificially triggering a natural lightning bolt with a small rocket, accomplished in collaboration with the International Center for Lightning Research and Testing at Camp Blanding, Florida, the Hillsborough County Museum of Science and Industry, Tampa, and the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, Tampa, Florida.” (

The final pieces are sometimes functional, as in the case of “Shapes Copper Cookie Cutters”, and sometimes decidedly nonfunctional. For example, in “Over Ten Thousand Individual Works,” 1987/88, he cast multiple found, functional objects and combined them in distinct ways. The combinations of the castings were then cast also, and the final step was painting everything the same color. Each of the over ten thousand forms then, was made from once functional objects, but in the end was simply formally interesting. (

mccollum cookie cutters


Allan McCollum

Shapes from Maine: Shapes Copper Cookie Cutters, detail, 2005/08
Polished copper, 5 1/2 x 3 2/3 x 1 inches each, each unique, formed in copper by hand
Produced in collaboration with Holly and Larry Little, founders of Aunt Holly’s Copper Cookie Cutters, Trescott, Maine
Photo by Lamay Photo
© Allan McCollum

mccollum over ten thousand individual works


Allan McCollum

Over Ten Thousand Individual Works, 1987/88
Enamel on cast Hydrocal, 2 inches in diameter each, with variable lengths, each unique
Photo by Fred Scruton
© Allan McCollum

Each of McCollums pieces successfully boils down to an evaluation of value as it relates to individuality versus duplication. However, in the acknowledgment that this is an interesting subject, I, personally, have another fascination with his work. I am both impressed with the nontraditional methods he finds to execute his idea (i.e. casting with lightning and MRI scans), and with how effectively he uses the traditional technique of casting with plaster.

In the case of the plaster, he brings attention to the fact that all complex forms are created by numerous basic forms. Also, because the forms are abstract and no one form is more important than another, he has made the differences between the final products the most important element of the whole display. And finally, all of his pieces, weather made from plaster, copper, or sand, because they are the same in every other regard, can be enjoyed on a purely formal level. This achievement would no doubt earn him praise from Susan Sontag and admirers of her essay “Against Interpretation.”


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