Back in the 1980s, when I had nothing better to do than watch TV and collect unemployment benefit, I saw a video of the artist Bruce McLean. It was shown as part of Channel 4’s art series Alter Image in 1987, and after watching, my first thoughts were: Who the fuck is Bruce McLean and what does he want?
I was lucky, I had time to go and investigate. In the library, I found this:
Maclean / McLean an Anglicisation of the Scottish Gaelic MacGilleEathain. This was the patronymic form of the personal name meaning “servant of (Saint) John”.
Interesting. But not quite right. Later, there was more.
Working in a variety of mediums including painting, film and video projection, performance and photography, Bruce McLean is one of the most important artists of his generation.
It was with live works that McLean first grabbed the attention of the art world. An impulsive, energetic Glaswegian, he became known as an art world ‘dare-devil’ by critiquing the fashion-oriented, social climbing nature of the contemporary art world in the ‘70s. At St Martins his professors included the great sculptors of the day, Anthony Caro and Phillip King, whose work he mocked ruthlessly. In Pose Work for Plinths I (1971; London, Tate), he used his own body to parody the poses of Henry Moore’s celebrated reclining figures, daring to mock the grand master himself.
Pose Work for Plinths (1971)
The notion of using his whole body as a sculptural vehicle of expression led him to explore live actions: ‘it was when we (a collective) invented the concept of ‘pose’ that We could do anything’. Pose was live sculpture: Not mime, not theatre, but live sculpture. My colleagues, Paul Richards, Ron Carr, Garry Chitty, Robin Fletcher and I created Nice Style ‘The World’s First Pose Band’, which performed for several years, offering audiences such priceless gems as the ‘semi-domestic spectacular Deep Freeze, a four-part pose opera based on the lifestyle and values of a mid-west American vacuum cleaner operative’. Behind the obvious humour was a desire to break with the establishment, something that he has continued to do throughout his life and work. In 1972, for instance, he was offered an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, but opted, for a ‘retrospective’ lasting only one day. ‘King for a Day’ consisted of catalogue entries for a thousand mock-conceptual works, among them The Society for Making Art Deadly Serious piece, Henry Moore revisited for the 10th Time piece and There’s no business like the Art business piece (sung).
Now, I knew. Bruce McLean is a performance artist, a conceptual artist, a painter, a sculptor, a film-maker, a teacher, a joker, who knows art can be fun, which is always dangerous.
Bonus clips, including Tate Gallery interview with Bruce McLean, after the jump…