Every Outdoor Sculpture at the OMCA

Artists survive on the interest of collectors. But just as every writer is also a reader, every artist is also a collector. Jason Polan, a New York–based artist and illustrator, is a case in point.

 “If there’s something I like, I want to find a lot of it—even if it’s the same thing,” he told me last week, on one of his regular visits to Oakland. “I collect J. D. Salinger books—large quantities of them. A friend asked me, ‘Why do you need more than one?’ And I couldn’t comprehend her not understanding why I wanted more than one. And I also couldn’t explain it.”

Polan’s love of collecting is abundant in his work. In a show currently on view at San Francisco’s Curiosity Shoppe, a 1983 Tony Gwynn rookie card, housed in a protective plastic collector’s sleeve, stands among Polan’s drawings, books, and sculptures. (The card, which he has two of, is from his personal collection, which he’s had since he was a kid. Like the drawings, it’s also for sale through the gallery.) For his Every Piece of Art in the Museum of Modern Art Book, Polan set out to draw—yep—every piece of art on view at the MoMA in New York. “I didn’t go into the archives, but I drew everything that you would see if you went there.”


I invited Jason to the Oakland Museum of California on his most recent visit to the Bay Area to do some drawings for the Oakland Standard. After wandering around for a few minutes, he decided to draw, on a single page, every outdoor sculpture at the Museum. The project was uncomfortable at first. “This is a little ambiguous,” he said. “When I did the MoMA project, I made a rough count of things beforehand, so I could have it in my head. I counted about 1,500 pieces, which was fine—something I could shoot for. Later, I wanted to do a similar project at the Museum of Natural History. I made a rough count, and it was like 30,000 objects!” We hadn’t made an estimate of how many outdoor sculptures are on view at the OMCA before we started—I assured Jason it was fewer than 30,000—so our tour through the museum’s tiered roof gardens and Great Court sometimes felt like it could go on indefinitely. Every few minutes we’d glance into a planter and find a new sculpture we’d never noticed before, despite our collective years of visiting the Museum.


This is one of the best outcomes a project like this can have, and it’s one of art’s most delicious and nutritive properties: the discovery of hidden details that live in plain sight. Moving through the garden, previously unnoticed parts of sculptures unfolded like wings before us: a tractor part hanging off of Richard Deutsch’s Harvest; a plexiglass pane in an arch on Fletcher Benton’s M. Polan’s best-known work to date is an ongoing drawing project called Every Person in New York. “Drawing people in New York has been a way for me to slow things down,” he said as he sketched Tony Labat’s giant yellow peace-sign sculpture that overlooks Lake Merritt. “That’s why I enjoy doing this: it helps me recognize things.”