New York

Jackie McAllister

Nordanstad Gallery

It’s very seductive to suggest, as Jackie McAllister does in reference to his LEGO artworks, that “the nature of each piece’s making is self-evident, [and its] internal and external realities are identical.” Or to play with the idea that they incarnate “full disclosure [which] can serve as a metaphor for a similar straightforwardness in the public arena.” While this may be manifesto material, it’s positively martian to suppose that the physical object in and of itself could in any sense constitute “full disclosure.” We could assume that these and other assertions contained in McAllister’s Sentences on LEGO works, 1993, are something of a parody on Marxist-Modernist rhetoric in relation to a body of work whose references include, in addition to Blinky Palermo, Jackson Pollock, and Frank Stella, a number of ersatz autobiographical motifs that have to do with Scottish tradition—tartan plaid, single malt scotch, and a videotape entitled Whiskey Film (Tight Little Island), 1993.

The appeal of these plastic-grid constructions displayed as formalist painting (LEGO Blinky: Straight and LEGO Tartan: Brodie Dress [BK4. R32. BK16. Y2. BK16. R4], both 1993) is that of a sturdy proletarian paint-by-numbers functionalism. Anyone can make a LEGO “painting” and it can look exactly like those displayed in a fashionable SoHo gallery. Gee. It seems so easy to eliminate all the sticky business of the power of the showroom or to silence the theoretical mumbo-jumbo about “internal” versus “external” signification. Artworks that are self-evident, interactional, free for the making? Yes, brothers and sisters, unite!

But, before we get on with the revolution, there is one little problem: it’s all a grand conceit. The artist gives the working-class schmo permission to make paintings exactly like his, and the showroom legitimizes these as gallery-quality art worthy of reproduction. But there’s more. Do we all know about Blinky Palermo and the social bent of his abstraction? Do we all recognize that tartan plaid (which fills the racks at K-mart each fall and in all likelihood is seen as ideologically “uninflected” by the majority of consumers of flannel shirts) is considered by certain cultural anthropologists to embody the Modernist ideal of “abstraction” with a social axis? Do we all appreciate the geometry of the LEGO pieces in relation to theories of musical progression à la Steve Reich and Arnold Schoenberg? Do we all make the connection between LEGO building blocks, with their implicit Toys-”R”-Us kitsch factor, and the architectural design principles of the Bauhaus? Puh-lease. The point is, we can’t embrace the depth of signification that is part of this work, and that will undoubtedly escape many viewers, and yet banter about “full disclosure” or accessibility.

Cutting McAllister a little slack, other aspects of his work have to do with retrieval. In Floor Painting, 1993, he covered the gallery floor with an extravaganza of splatters, drips, and pours in three shades of gray enamel with obvious reference to you know who. We get to “walk on a Pollock,” which is fun, and McAllister gets to enact the choreography captured in Hans Namuth’s film. In Stella, 1991/1993, two large photographs taken at different times are paired, each is of the same northeast corner of West Broadway and Canal Street, the approximate site where it is said that Frank Stella, in 1961, stuffed a black painting (Gavotte) into a trash bin because it was too heavy to carry around.

McAllister returns us to the scene of the crime. Whether through Stella, or Pollock, or the social dimensions of abstraction, McAllister seems to be on his own scavenging-expedition, finding in the metaphorical trash bins of previous generations a lot of usable stuff, which he recycles with a tongue-in-cheek attitude in works drawn from disparate sources and overflowing with signification. He professes a certain neutrality in this activity, but in time he may well discover that the cultural soup has a way of turning into cement.

Jan Avgikos