Critics’ Picks

Allan McCollum, Collection of Two Hundred and Forty Lost Objects, 1991, 240 cast concrete dinosaur bones, dimensions variable.

New York

Allan McCollum

Mary Boone Gallery | Chelsea
541 West 24th Street
March 4–April 22

I was midway through a Google image search when I descended into the subway. My cell-phone service flickered out before the results could fully load, leaving the screen crowded with uneven rectangles of gray, tan, and black. When the pictures materialized a few moments later, I felt disappointed. In their chrysalis state, they were full of possibility. Now, they were dead ends.

I was reminded of this experience later in the day while visiting Allan McCollum’s “Lost Objects.” Throughout his decades-long career, McCollum has created hundreds of plaster casts in the shape of framed artworks with black centers. For this exhibition—the artist’s first at this gallery—curator Piper Marshall paired several of these Plaster Surrogates, 1982–, with a video titled May I Help You?, 1991, a collaboration between McCollum and Andrea Fraser. In it, an actress playing a gallery docent gives a tour of a room packed with Surrogates, stopping to describe different pieces in detail. She gestures to these black rectangles as if each of them were wildly different—one a pastoral landscape, perhaps; another a gestural abstraction.

McCollum’s uniform black canvases do not function as voids but rather as prompts for stories and fantasies. The two other works on view similarly seek to imbue plain or familiar items with a sense of intrigue or the uncanny. The main room hosts Collection of Two Hundred and Forty Lost Objects, 1991, a dizzying display of cast dinosaur bones; and in the back room, Marshall has hung a selection from Actual Photos, 1985, a project done with Laurie Simmons, featuring photographs of toy figurines shot with a microscopic lens to reveal their deformities and differences.