Thursday, February 16, 2006
Back in the summer when this blog was a little more “regular”, I reported on the opening of Chelsea Space, a new exhibition venue which whilst located on the campus of the new Chelsea College of Art at Milbank was displaying an independence of curatorial spirit that promised much for the future. The latest exhibition, a Bruce McLean retrospective, does not disappoint continuing the theme of showing work that whilst hardly obscure is somewhat off the beaten track from that seen in more fashionable galleries. Retrospective is actually not entirely accurate for Process Progress Project Archive is a ‘process-spective”, that runs for six week and ends on the same day that Bruce McLean held his King-for-a-day one day 'retrospective' in 1972.
Instead then of presenting all the works simultaneously, artifacts and artworks from McLean’s archive will be installed, uninstalled, performed, projected and so on throughout the duration. Bruce himself will be on hand at points during the exhibition to facilitate the process, talk about the work, who knows maybe have a beer.
Why then does this process based show work when so many that one has visited in recent years seem to have failed? Perhaps it is because unlike other ‘ongoing’ process based exhibitions where one often wanders in feeling as if one has arrived at half time, between sets so to speak here one feels more as if one is glimpsing the edge of something much larger. The nature of McLean’s work facilitates this, as there are copious drawings, sketches, notebooks, photographs, and posters and so on to choose from. Today’s slice through the McLean back catalogue focused on the Nice Style Pose Art Band, which McLean formed in the early 70’s. Nice Style somehow invigorated the insubstantial and effete elements of the pose with a seriousness that belied an underlying conceptual pranksterism.
Nice Style was in many ways the logical conclusion to the artist’s early performance based conceptual work. Pieces such as Pose Work for Plinths date from a time when many young British artists (no not those ones) were embracing conceptualism. Pose Work and the performances of McLean’s contemporaries such as Richard long and Gilbert & George seem to posses an almost effortless conceptualism; simultaneously throwaway and yet perfectly conceived. This is not of course to underestimate the shock or resistance that such work caused and encountered at the time for whilst from an Art History perspective the antecedents of such work can clearly be seen in the unholy trio of Fluxus, Dada and Duchamp the teaching in British Art Colleges in the late 60's was far more traditional.
The Nice Style Pose Art band performed a final Pose Piece in 1975 but McLean and fellow poseur Paul Richards returned for a final coup de grace the Masterwork: Award Winning Fishknife at the Riverside Studios in 1979. The Fishknife took many of the elements of Pose Art and to a Michael Nyman accompaniment produced a peculiar blend of music performance theatre sculpture, a masterwork indeed.
But then what? I recall going a couple of years later after Fishknife to an exhibition of painting by McLean at the Greenwich theatre; these were bold and quick works, almost like sketches for an imagined performance. As the 80’s wore on McLean seemed to concentrate almost solely on painting, somewhere along the line he became Professor Bruce McLean but the sparkle of the early performance pieces seemed lacking.
In an audio commentary at Chelsea Space (which incidentally should be compulsory listening to all would be curators) McLean talks about “getting the nark” of after a point “not really being bothered”. Maybe it was the easy life of the Art Lecturer or maybe a sense that he had said what needed to be said and that repetition was pointless. Either way it is great to see the early works re-energsied and brought back to life at Chelsea Space. Go once, twice, maybe three times. There is also a nice little publication for £5 and a free poster.