Image: Bruce McLean
The Leeds City Art gallery is currently showcasing Bruce McLean: Another Condition of Sculpture, an exhibition containing some of the artist’s unseen work from over the past 50 years. He first studied at Glasgow School of Art and then at St Martins in the mid-sixties, where he rebelled against the formalist academic style of his tutors and the art establishment. Challenging the modernist conditions of permanence and immobility in sculpture, McLean began to create impermanent sculptures using water and his own body. Over the last half century, McLean’s practice has included painting, performance, photographs, film and ceramics, all of which he considers to be sculpture.
The first part of the exhibition features a new body of McLean’s paintings: they are large, colourful and use charcoal as well as paint, depicting abstracted forms that overlap painting with sculpture. Henry Moore’s sculptures have influenced and featured heavily in McLean’s work and accompanying the sculpture is Mclean’s own Fallen Warrior, an inkjet print of a photograph of the artist using his own body to parody the poses of Moore’s sculptures. Showing the artist wearing a tin helmet and Doc Marten’s posing on a plinth on the bank of the river, the picture is funny, containing an element of slap-stick.
The second room focuses mainly on Mclean’s performance work and further demonstrates his sense of humour. The first part of the room contains two example Mclean’s moving image work. Soup: A Concept Consommé is a short film depicting a hard to please couple dining in what appears to be a upmarket restaurant, where an aloof waiter brings different modernist sculptures to the table in soup bowls. The second, I Want My Crown, a film of the artist dancing against a white wall, looking slightly awkward and repeatedly pointing to sculpture of a crown above his head. Each time I saw it playing there was at least one small child chuckling away at the artist’s dance moves.
The rest of the room contains documentation of his performance work. On the right hand side are a collection of vintage photographs that capture the essence of his different performance pieces. These are not to be merely glanced at, as each one has a witty narrative of its own. On the left hand side, the entire wall is covered by his framed Drawings for Live Performance, McLean’s quick, rough sketches of plan for his performances, covered in cut-out and scrawly handwriting. These really give you an insight into how McLean’s mind works as an artist.
Challenging institutional categories, Another Condition of Sculpture exhibits an ongoing dialogue with the condition of sculpture. Diverse and satirical, it will leave you with a sense of familiarity with the artist and is definitely worth a visit.