Bruce McLean

In the Shadow of Your Smile, Bob


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Not on display

Bruce McLean born 1944
Film, 16mm, or video, projection, black and white, and sound (mono) and digital print on paper
Duration: 23min, 29sec
support: 690 × 665 mm
overall display dimensions variable
Purchased 2012


Bruce McLean’s black and white film In the Shadow of Your Smile, Bob 1970 was first exhibited at Situation, London in 1970. The film, which lasts twenty-three minutes and is shown as a projection, consists of two set-ups in which the artist is shown posing to camera, which are then repeated. The soundtrack features McLean and an interlocutor reviewing the edited film and offering a commentary to the poses McLean affects, as well as reflecting on the significance of the film’s title and the private nature of its meaning. The first of the set-ups shows McLean seated behind a table upon which two microphones are positioned as though they are recording him, although McLean points out in the soundtrack that they are not plugged in. A spotlight is directed at the wall behind McLean, casting dramatic shadows. The second set-up focuses more closely on McLean’s face. Brightly lit and wearing white clothes against a white wall, McLean smokes and makes exaggerated facial expressions towards the camera.

The ‘Bob’ referred to in the title of the work is the American artist Robert Morris (born 1931). McLean and Morris both had work included in the landmark exhibition of conceptual art When Attitudes Become Form at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969, curated by Harald Szeemann. McLean has explained how ‘I was looking through the catalogue for When Attitudes Become Form … and was inspired by the photo of Robert Morris – not smiling, but looking very serious. Brancusi, a hero of mine, had stated that he could not work in the shadow of Rodin and I thought it hard to work in the shadow of Morris … a minor influence.’ (Artist’s statement, Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin 2010,, accessed 25 June 2018.) In the Shadow of Your Smile, Bob is related to another work by McLean, A Million Smiles for One of your Miles, Walter 1971, the reference in this work being to the photograph of the artist Walter de Maria (born 1935) from the same exhibition catalogue.

In the Shadow of Your Smile, Bob is displayed beside an enlarged print of a photograph of Robert Morris taken from the Bern exhibition catalogue. Although the identity of ‘Bob’ is not mentioned in the soundtrack, it might thus be inferred by the informed viewer. McLean repeatedly comments that the film is ‘simply about in the shadow of your smile Bob’, but does not elaborate further on the meaning of the title. At one point he challenges his interlocutor about whether the latter understands the work, insisting that he could not possibly do so: ‘I don’t think you understand this at all … I think it’s beyond you … I’m one of the elite.’ This irreverent humour is a critical aspect of McLean’s work and underpins his ‘pose’ works of the period. Pose works were performances that largely consisted of adopting highly artificial postures with an emphasis on tableaux (see Pose Work for Plinths I 1971, Tate T03273, and Pose Work for Plinths 3 1971, Tate T03274). For McLean, posing had a satirical and critical intent that was directed at art and the art world as well as at broader social targets. Throughout the soundtrack of the film, McLean identifies certain of his gestures or expressions, his ‘poses’, as works of art in themselves, pointing out a ‘face piece’, a ‘moving head piece’, a ‘multi-expression face piece’ and, on taking his hands out of his pockets, an ‘out of pocket hand piece’.

Critic Nina Dimitrijevic has written:

The direct inspiration for pose as an artistic expression sprang from McLean’s observation of absurd, comical aspects of social behaviour in the art world. Statements such as ‘Painters and sculptors are more performance artists than I am’ and ‘To be able to maintain a pose is the test of any great work’ grow from his conviction that the consistency of a chosen pose is a condition for success in the art structure and that value judgments in art are never produced independently, but are conditioned by the dimensions of an artist’s myth.
(Nina Dimitrijevic in Kunsthalle Basel 1981, p.24.)

Further reading
Bruce McLean, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Basel, Basel 1981.
Mel Gooding, Bruce McLean, Oxford 1990.

Helen Delaney
March 2011

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