acrylic on cast Hydrocal
each 50 x 21 cm (19 1/2 x 8 1/3 in.)
each object is signed, dated and sequentially numbered (1-5) on the underside and inscribed 'PV8834'.
For more than 30 years, artist Allan McCollum, one of the most influential names in American conceptual art, has been engaged in a complex conceptual examination of what we expect from art and archaeological objects. In doing so, he is interested in the way a simple thing-a painting or photograph or even a fossilized dinosaur bone-makes the journey from object to icon to symbol.
McCollum began making his first "Perfect Vehicles" in 1985 by presenting and displaying an iconic sculptural form to explore the ways in which a single object can develop cultural meaning. These perfect vases come in a variety of colors, so although each vase has the same shape, no two groups are alike in terms of quantity and color. Sitting on pedestals, in keeping with the standard mode for displaying sculpture, the groupings ranged from five to fifty perfectly similar vases cast in Hydrocal, a plaster-like material. His earliest works in this series were a little over three feet tall, but McCollum varied them in all sorts of different sizes. In 1988, for example, he enlarged them to over 80 inch tall.
The form is that of a Chinese ginger jar, a traditional vessel that itself has been widely copied and reproduced for centuries. In McCollum's work, each sculpture is thickly painted with a different shade of commercial paint and has no opening, completely eliminating the typical use value one might expect from a vase. Presented singly or in groups, McCollum's Perfect Vehicles invite a range of associations: they look like something you might find in the Asian art department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art or in the windows of Tiffany & Co, but they could also represent giant chess pieces, the outline of a female body, or even urns. It is precisely this ambiguity that interests McCollum, and each repetition brings a new level of interpretation. Over the years, "Perfect Vehicles" has been shown in typical white-cube galleries, on the steps of museums, and in a single series in the cavernous interior of the Arsenale at the Venice Biennale in 1988. In their radical dysfunctionality, they outgrow their actual purpose and transform into an object, a work of art, becoming a vehicle of social distinction that conveys the aura of iconic uniqueness in the context of a perfect presentation.