Californian by origin and a New Yorker by adoption, Allan McCollum (Los Angeles, 1944) began his career in the 60s as a stage actor. He discovered the writings and artists of the interdisciplinary group Fluxus, at a time when he was working in his first job with a company that specialized in packaging and shipping artworks, so leading him to an artistic career.
His work rested on observation of the relations between common objects and art objects: starting from the assumption that the value of a work of art is linked to the concept of authenticity, McCollum distorted this assumption by producing works in series using semi-industrial processes. All his work is based on the difference between “the idea” of the work, the expectations embodied in it as an art object, and its condition as a product, a commodity. The artist’s studio, the supreme place for the expression of individual genius, becomes an assembly line where a group of assistants work on increasingly ambitious projects. These include the Surrogate Paintings, monochrome pictures in enameled plaster made from molds and installed together on the wall to emphasize the serial nature of the operation. If the production process emulates that of a factory, at the same time the diversity of forms shows how, despite their standardization, it is possible to differentiate products by making them unique, generating repetition with endless variations. The constant shuttling between uniqueness and seriality, artisanal and industrial, individual and collective, makes McCollum’s work the starting point for acute reflection on the relation between art and mass society.
The Dog from Pompeii, exhibited at Madre in the context of Per_forming a collection, is a project directly inspired by the city of Naples, where his work was exhibited for the first time in 1993, at the Studio Trisorio. McCollum here starts from the image of the “chained dog”, a plaster cast made of the skeleton of a dog during the excavation of the domus of Vesonius Primus in Pompeii in the nineteenth century. Obtaining a matrix of the original cast (now on display at the Museo Vesuviano G.B. Alfano), the artist multiplied the figure by making further plaster casts and other using them to take up the whole of the gallery space. The work is not only emblematic in demonstrating his working method but acquires an added significance: the starting point is not a common object but a copy of it made from the negative of the form of the original archaeological find. There is therefore a twofold level of reproduction (of the nineteenth-century cast and then of the one made by the artist), so doubly calling into question the concept of “originality”. At the same time, the process of the cast, by recreating a presence from an absence, becomes an instrument by which to reappropriate the past and transmit it to the future, leaving its iconic and symbolic value intact and in this specific case multiplying its effect.