Assignment 2 Preparation: The Spectator and the Simulacra

Here I am collecting loosely found images and texts related to visual perception of pictures in social and cultural context, more related to today’s visual environment rather than the 1980s. Relating this to Allan McCollum’s ‘Surrogates’ in a kind of visual confirmation of the alienated appeal of pictures as a situational background ‘noise’.

In context of my earlier reference – click here,  Allan McCollum’s ‘Surrogates’ can be considered as mass produced objects and simulation of a reality (Baudrillard) while still keeping some references to the mass cultural product of ‘art’, or in this respect to the specific art form ‘painting’.

Kit White refers in her popular book about art and what one supposedly doesn’t learn at art school, to a picture of Allan McCollum’s ‘Plaster Surrogates’ and to Baudrillard’s Simulacrum

“Simulacrum refers to a likeness or simulation that has the appearance but not the substance of the thing it resembles.

Virtual reality, virtual experiences are based on simulacra. Politics and consumerism are also based on simulacra. Most of what passes for communication and, to a large extent, the objects we collect and consume are all copies of something we will never experience as an original. The disconnect between what we know as image and what we experience, materially or actually, constitutes a large part of what must be the description of the world we know. Parsing that difference is a critical pan of describing the world that surrounds us.” – Kit White, 2011

While clipping images from magazine and Pinterest I could truly relate to Baudrillard’s simulacra relating to ‘wall picture clusters’ that are nowadays everywhere. And it confirmes partly Debord’s notion of the spectacle and that our life is mediated through images, only through what one can say: the imitations of images, the fake, and the reflection of it.

Images of picture clusters (Fig. 1-4) – from my Pinterest board (

Examples of clusters, presentation of framed images and pictures, quite the way McCollum could have seen while looking ‘into the office spaces housed in other buildings across the way and see paintings hanging on the wall.” (Anker, 2009, p 100).

These are images from magazines, advertisment for frames, for interior decoration. The subject matter of each image, barely recognizable from a distant. The vast amount exceeds the human brain capacity to comprehend individuality, ‘anonymous objects that functioned primarily to fill wall space.’ (ebid, p 100)

It is the overall perception, the ‘wholeness’ that counts. The rooms are staged, as the furniture, as a repetitive confirmation of McCollum’s ‘Surrogates’

And everybody who went to a department store knows that those ‘pictures’ are indeed just placeholders, fakes. As if the spectacle of the void and emptiness is proclaiming its place.

And what looks like a gallery wall of McCollum’s ‘Surrogates‘ became a template for making a ‘photo-wall’ (Fig. 5) :

I was surprized – or perhaps not –  to find on the webpage of the Deutsches Tapeten-Institut  Hier steht es schwarz auf weiß!” (It is black on white) framed ‘void’ picture-objects, drawn and further replaced by and morphed into wall paper, a very ready-made gallery show at home! (Fig. 6, designed by Timothy Goodman)


Cluster pictures - by Timothy Goodman -

Fig. 6: Cluster pictures – by Timothy Goodman –

The effort to place pictures inside of frames or even just to place void picture-objects on the wall is finally eliminated. The consumer can just glue it own gallery, ready to go, ready to consume, produced just for you.

I would have believed that McCollum’s ‘Surrogates’ were still as art object staying in galleries, museums or with collectors. But it got directly appropriated, installed in a home by the magazine Architectural Digest (Fig. 7). Irony, that the circumstances that made McCollum to start his project of the ‘Surrogates’ actually are repeated here. ‘Painting hangings on the wall’ became ‘Picture-objects’ hanging on the wall, and the mass produced variants of ‘Surrogates’ became a chic decoration for upper-class interiors, not on the main walls in the living room of course, in the staircase, filling the empty wall, the void, withanother ‘void’.

Article from Architectural Digest Read It Just outside Paris, architect Charles Zana tailors a midcentury house to suit its owners’ dazzling collection of contemporary art Published April 1, 2016 Ian Phillips, Richard Powers -

Fig. 7: Article from Architectural Digest Published April 1, 2016 Ian Phillips, Richard Powers –

In that order, decades after his ‘gallery-goer’ spectacle of the ‘Surrogates’ the objects came back to its origin. As if nothing had changed in between, only now there is no need any longer to place actual images, pictures, photographs or certificates of merit at the wall. The ready-mades, either as objects or as a wallpaper, are not collectibles, but consumables, with an ephemeral appeal. I am  wondering how a sign for that symbol of symbols of symbols would like today. A constant re-iteratation of signs. I believe here we are talking about Barthes’ myth as the ambiguity between meaning and form, the latter filled by a concept. And the concept is in the mentioned images clearly one of convenient mass-consumption.

This brought me further to the ephemeral where it is most visible: Fashion. Fashion was already a theme at the beginning of modern art, the Impressionists often depicted women and men in its latest fashion in the streets of Paris (Furlong-Clancy, 2015). Strolling through the streets or gathering in the urban parks was how middle-class people (women and men) spend their leisure time, with pictoresque subject matters to paint.

In the German fashion magazine ‘Flair’ I found several photographs with props – pictures or picture-objects as props – as McCollum has considered those for his ‘Surrogates’ in a stage scene of theater (Fig. 8). Again one can see barely visible pictures, rather placeholder, or just indications of frames in color, or black picture portions, just like McCollums ‘Plaster Surrogates’ – or like monochrome pictures in reference of Malevich’s ‘Black Square’. A scene that reminds me Cecil Beaton’s fashion photographs in front of Pollock’s ‘Action Paintings’ (‘The New Soft Look’, 1951).

Relationship of hanging picture in fashion ads ‘Day Dreams’:

Fashion context - log images -

Fig. 8: Fashion context – log images –

Those props remind me of the common theme of ‘vanitas’ in the 17th century, the Gouden Eeuw of painting. At that time it were skullsm hour glasses, flowers or mirrors as an allegory for the ephemeral nature of human existence. I was always wondering how the Latin term ‘Vanitas’ merged into the term ‘vanity’ – for fashion. Now it seems, that pictures, or better ‘picture-props’ are taking over the ‘vanitas’ allegory.

Pleasure and beauty

But still there is the crowd seeking for pleasure and – again looking for beautiness beyond fashion.  Janet Wolf finishes her article about ”The Meanings of Minimalism’ (2005) reviewing recent blockbuster retrospectives on Minimal Art in Los Angeles (‘A Minimal Future? Art as Object’) and New York. According to her there is a wide appeal of Minimal Art for the crowd today (Wolf, 2005, p.68):

“As for the popular appeal of minimalist art today, the same conservative culture that has already produced the much-noted “return to beauty” provides a context in which, once again, the purely formal aspects of the art (which is, after all, often very beautiful) offer the sole pleasure of viewing.” – Janet Wolf, 2005

In that respect the aesthetic judgement and pleasure of beauty, mediated ‘through the crowd at large’ (Duve, 1990, p.296) are coming together. Aesthetics is the realm of taste and art as art theory were,  according to Joseph Kosuth in his essay ‘Art after Philosophy’, (1969), separated with the rise of ‘Conceptual Art’ and in context of the readymade initiated by Duchamp (Duve, 1990, p. 279). Here would also come together the appeal for the ‘crowd’ of ‘picture-props’, the beauty of not only having but rather the appearance of things that are related to the wide area of ‘art’. It seems as if Debord’s articulation of the modern spectacle is eventually finding its ultitmate realization when he states that social life moved from having towards appearing (Debord, 2016, 17)

“The first phase of the domination of the economy over social life brought into the definition of all human realization the obvious degradation of being into having. The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing, from which all actual “having” must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function. At the same time all individual reality has become social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it. It is allowed to appear only to the extent that it is not.” – G. Debord

One can go further and see the represenation of representions by art as the hyperrealism that Baudrillard is referring to when he states that  ‘reality itself is hyperrealistic’ and life is ‘life the distancing effect within a dream’ (Baudrillard, 2003, p.1019). And as I compared above the traditional ‘vanitas’ allegorical items with today’s ‘picture-props’, Baudrillard stats that those were simulacra as well but ‘transparent and manifest’, one could take pleasure in discovering something ‘natural ..what was artificial and counterfeit’. And where I see the link the McCollum’s ‘Surrogates’ again is when he continues that ‘the real and the imaginary are confounded’ and ‘aesthetic fascination is everywhere’ and it needs  ‘code’ for deciphering fake from the authentic.


This brief excurses of visual culture and Allan McCollum’s ‘Surrogates’ brought me perhaps more away from the assignment brief (context in modernist art and theory). However, in the scope of this course on ‘Understanding Visual Culture’ it seems to be quite relevant to draw the line till today. I am aware that many aspects are related rather to Post-Modernism or after that even, topics that I will learn more about in the following parts 3 to 5, and that I already referred to Post-Modernist theorist as Baudrillard. McCollum created his ‘Surrogates’ begin 1980s, much after Minimal Art and the end of Greenbergian’s concept of Modernist Art and the seperation of the disciplines of art. And I believe that he was not only influenced by Fluxus but also by the social conscious theories of Debord and Baudrillard.

My next step will be to write down my assignment essay on the McCollum’s ‘Surrogates’ and to ‘explain its relationship to Modernist art and theory’. 


  • DeaVita (n.d.-a) Design Inspiration Monday,  [Pinterest webpage], Available from: [accessed 25 May 2017].
  • DeaVita (n.d.-b) Fotowand mit Schablonen planen,  [Illustration ], Available from: [accessed 25 May 2017].
  • Phillips, I. and Powers, R. (2016) Tour a Midcentury House in the Suburbs of Paris,  [Pinterest webpage], Available from: [accessed 20 May 2017].
  • (n.d.) wall with picture frames,  [Pinterest webpage], Available from: [accessed 25 May 2017].
  • (n.d.) “Hier steht es schwarz auf weiß!”,  [Pinterest webpage], Available from: [accessed 25 May 2017].
  • (n.d.) Fotowand gestalten ecke,  [Pinterest webpage], Available from: [accessed 25 May 2017].


  • Anker, S. (2009) ‘Prime Objects and Body Doubles’, in: Art Journal. [Online]. 68(4),  pp. 99-104,  Available from: [accessed 29 May 2017].
  • Baudrillard, J. (2003) ‘The Hyper-realism of Simulation (1976)’, in: Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (eds.) Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, Malden, MA; Oxford, UK; Victoria, AUS: Blackwell Publishing,  pp. 1018 – 1020. VIIIA – 1.
  • Debord, G. (2016) The society of the spectacle, reprinted ed. Detroit, MI: Black & Red.
  • Deutsches Tapeten-Institut GmbH (2011) “Hier steht es schwarz auf weiß!”, [online], Available from: [Accessed 25 May 2017].
  • Duve, T. d. (1990) ‘The Monochrome and the Canvas’, in: Guilbaut, S. (ed.) Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris and Montreal 1945-1964, Cambridge Mass.; London: MIT Press,  pp. 244-310.
  • Furlong-Clancy, S. (2015) Fashion and the Painting of Parisian Modernity, [online], Available from: [Accessed 18 March 2017].
  • White, K. (2011) 101 things to learn in art school. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  • Wolff, J. (2005) ‘The Meanings of Minimalism’, in: Contexts. [Online]. 4(1),  pp. 65-68,  Available from: [accessed 29 May 2017].

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