Period & Style
This video is excerpted from the Season 5 episode Systems premiering on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 10pm (ET) on PBS (check local listings). Systems features four artists—John Baldessari, Kimsooja, Allan McCollum, and Julie Mehretu—who invent new grammars and logics, finding comfort in some systems while rebelling against others in today’s supercharged, information-based society. Allan McCollum was born in Los Angeles in 1944; he lives and works in New York. Applying strategies of mass production to hand-made objects, McCollum’s labor-intensive practice questions the intrinsic value of the unique work of art. McCollum’s installations—fields of vast numbers of small-scale works, systematically arranged—are the product of many tiny gestures, built up over time. Viewing his work often produces a sublime effect as one slowly realizes that the dizzying array of thousands of identical-looking shapes is, in fact, comprised of subtly different, distinct things. Engaging assistants, scientists, and local craftspeople in his process, McCollum embraces a collaborative and democratic form of creativity. His drawings and sculptures often serve a symbolic purpose—as surrogates, faithful copies, or stand-ins for people—and are presented theatrically, transforming the exhibition space into a laboratory where artifice and context are scrutinized. Economical in form, yet curious in function, his work and mechanical-looking processes are infused with humor and humility.