In spite of the strong resemblance, no two surrogates are exactly alike. These are not very large rectangular objects, never more than 50 ´ 40 cm. Made of plaster, they recall a framed painting consisting of three parts: an interior, where the painting itself is placed, a passepartout and a frame. Some of them have the interior painted black, the passepartout white and the frame in different colours. Others, the ones he calls "monochromes", are painted in the same tonality in all three parts, as in the case of this work. Although the team who work for McCollum have made thousands of these objects, all of them have small differences in the combinations of colour and size. And although his associates do a large part of the work, he insists on personally painting the outer edge of the centres and the inner edge of the passepartouts. That is what he calls "sticking to the rules" and he adds: “I'm doing the minimum required of an artist, and nothing more.” The substitutes for paintings McCollum proposes play with some of the concepts usually associated with works of art. These are hand-made objects, individually signed and dated, although their appearance suggests industrial production. In spite of the perfection of their forms and the evident repetition, the central surface has a certain texture that contradicts the idea of mass manufacture. Moreover, their arrangement in a group refutes the way in which paintings are usually shown. If we usually see works of art in a gallery or museum as a unique object with a certain amount of space left free around it so that we can look at it without interference, in this case we find dozens, even hundreds of objects hung regularly on the wall of the exhibition room. Thanks to their appearance, measurements and, most of all, their name, these “substitutes” are presented as an alternative to the work of art. However, works of art have traditionally been understood as substitutes for reality. And so McCollum is proposing a substitute for a substitute, doubly frustrating our expectations. This situation suggests a reading of 216 Plaster Surrogates which is not free of irony. The surrogates, objects devoid of content in themselves, become consumer elements. As he himself has clarified, his mission is “to discover, in an emotional sense, what kind of object painting is.” Through the reduction of these pieces to mere exchange objects, McCollum is questioning their functions in the contemporary social environment: consumer object, decorative element, symbol of prestige or exclusively speculative market value. When all is said and done, he is posing those questions by paradoxically replacing the traditional values of uniqueness and exclusivity by those of abundance and accessibility.
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