© Bruce McLean. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2016.


Bruce McLean (1944 – )


625 x 930 MM
Accession number


The once in a lifetime chance of a solo show at the Tate Gallery came to Bruce McLean in 1972. McLean, along with Keith Arnatt, Michael Craig-Martin, Bob Law, Joseph Beuys, Hamish Fulton and David Tremlett, was invited by Michael Compton to take part in a series of short one-man exhibitions showcasing conceptual art. In typical irreverent fashion McLean declared his exhibition a one-day retrospective, naming it King for a Day. He was 27.

McLean started work on the idea for King for a Day in 1969. It took the form of a catalogue detailing the titles of one thousand proposed works. As well as being a list of planned sculptures and performances, it was a work of literary playfulness, with many of the titles parodying the language of art criticism and categorisation: Another breakthrough piece (969), Transmission of visual sensitivity piece (951). Other titles poked fun at the pompousness and snobbery perceived by McLean in elements of the art world: Birds of a Feather Flock Together and Make Establishment Art, Piece (869). The list was also peppered with references to popular culture, McLean's earlier sculptures and performances, and localities familiar to him.

Two years before the Tate show McLean exhibited King for a Day on the walls of the Nova Scotia Gallery in Canada. For the Tate, McLean presented the work in black booklets sealed with a label saying: 'Another Major Breakthrough Piece Note Casual Tat.' One thousand booklets were laid out in a square grid on the gallery floor and visitors were invited to buy them, thereby dismantling the show as the day went by. Those who purchased the book would have found copies of photographs and preparatory drawings slipped among the pages.

King for a Day - both in concept and realisation on the walls and floors of galleries - demonstrated McLean's tendency to question and test the presuppositions and self-justification of an arts establishment, which, however, McLean acknowledged became part of his work in the process. Whether planned or by chance, King for a Day was to mark a shift in McLean's practice towards a more collaborative and performance based period, circumventing the gallery space all together, as number 1000 stated: Goodbye sculpture, art pieces...

Bruce McLean (exhibition catalogue by Nena Dimitrijevic. Kuntsthalle Basel; Whitechapel Art Gallery, London; Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; 1981)
Bruce McLean (Mel Gooding, Oxford and New York, Phaidon Press, 1990)
King for a Day (London, Situation Publications, 1972)