Allan McCollum

The Shapes Project



Allan McCollum was born in Los Angeles and first gained notoriety in California for large, abstract paintings constructed of repeating modules. Since the time of his move to New York in 1975 he has made collections of objects that continue to explore the theme of repetition as well as the closely related ideas of variation and similarity.

For the Shapes Project installed at the Smith Cardiovascular Research Building, McCollum presents a set of wooden objects that represent the possibility of creating a unique and distinctive shape to represent each person on the planet: “I was interested in how people identify themselves as part of a group, and how often that depends on looking up to someone or some "thing." They follow leaders, are governed or represented by a king or a president. I was playing with the idea that a single symbol (a corporate logo, a flag, or a coat of arms) might have meaning for thousands, even millions, of people, but also thinking about how these structures can become autocratic. It was an experiment, and my solution was to imagine a heraldic symbol for every person on the planet…When I was thinking about how many to make, I learned that the United Nations estimates that there will be 9.5 billion people on the planet in 2050. That would be the peak, and then the numbers would begin to decrease.

This graphic inquiry into the relationship between sameness and multiplicity is especially relevant to a life science research facility. We might think of these shapes as representing individual humans, individual thoughts and ideas, or even single cells in the body. The collection and all its possible variations can stand in for humankind, then, or for scientific systems, or lab equipment, or for any set of component parts where deviation, variation, and innovation come into play. McCollum has realized the project in conjunction with various collaborators and fabricators in a variety of forms, from larger sculptures to monoprints, copper cookie cutters and rubber stamps. Woodworkers Horace and Noella Varnum fabricated each of the wooden pieces for the Shapes project, and Atthowe Fine Art Services installed this set at the Smith Cardiovascular Research Building.