236 Pender St East,
13 Oct 2023–10 Feb 2024
12 October, 2023
T. +1 604.683.7395
14 February–14 March 1998
Curated by: Reid Shier
Phil McCrum has developed a body of work over the last thirteen years which demands critical attention. McCrum’s practice focuses on the relationship between the artist and the viewer, and specifically on the role of the gallery in negotiating that relationship. Never accepting that an artist is independent of the economies which govern all social contracts, McCrum uses a number of tactics to analyse how the context and history of the gallery, and the artists role within it, are formulated. Employing drawing, painting, video and photography, writing and installation as methodological tools, McCrum is devoted to uncovering how different political and economic systems affect the meaning of different types of visual images.
McCrum’s exhibition, entitled Tear, consists partly of large scale canvases developed in the manner of abstract expressionistic drip paintings. McCrum, employs paint from household mistints, however, as a way of foregrounding an economic uncontrollability in opposition to the mythic, and phallic, uncontrollability of the male artists ‘method’. Class always plays a part of McCrum’s art and a second project for the exhibition developed through an investigation of portraiture and the mutable and interchangeable meanings of iconic, famous, infamous and anonymous individuals. Entitled The French Revolution, McCrum inserts portraits of his friends and acquaintances into the roles of the Revolution’s key figures. This gently questions the relative roles we play in historical moments by conflating the past with a familiar and local present.
TEAR (The Practice of Non Practice)
A key bit of art world logic is that in order to succeed (i.e. sell work and get invited into bigger exhibitions), an artist has to being making work all the time. Outside of what’s hot, what’s sexy, what’s ‘been done’, few make careers out of an occasional piece-Duchamp perhaps the exception that proves the rule. As someone who only makes a few things now and then I think my success is contingent on this. I don’t blame my job or my financial situation because deep down I think that if I really wanted to I’d be able to find the money and time.
I had a conversation with someone about Phil once, and they said he wasn’t more successful because “he didn’t want it.” What they meant was that he didn’t produce enough work. I think he does “want it”, whatever that is, its just that he goes through periods where art doesn’t get made. If The Practice of Non-Practice refers to the question of whether or not the art in this exhibition constitutes a “practice”, I think it also-or as condition of that question-asks how these gaps, these periods of not-making-art, are considered. If they’re just down-time-time when “not wanting it” supersedes the motivation and desire of success, it also means that activity is constructive and ‘healthy for the career’ and that in-activity is its obverse-not just neutral, but ultimately destructive of ‘goals’. As self evident as this may be, it begs a lot of questions. I’m most curious about how activity became synonymous with production.
McCrum and Lenin
“Not only do I not ‘philosophize’ with their philosophy, I do not ‘philosophize’ like them at all. Their way of ‘philosophizing’ is to expend fortunes of intelligence and subtlety for no other purpose than to ruminate in philosophy. Whereas I treat philosophy differently, I practise it as Marx intended, in obedience to what it is. That is why I believe I am a ‘dialectical materialist.'” (Lenin)
One of the continuing principles of McCrum’s work and which connects it more to that which has followed in the past decade (which is the say the canonization of low art) than to the too neat photographers around is the inversion of the classic Leninist dictum – the ends justify the means – so that what is at hand by “chance” (be it the series of photos in the daily paper or material at Dressew and lack of time – most infamously to the parameters of the artist fee [back, psychoanlysis] – his battle cry “I know guys they get to town, they’re handed a paintbrush and a hammer and told to get to it” as well as his own exclusion as topoi) then, incorporated into the art work in a manner which not only renders – rednecks? – the means into the end; which is to say, the object of the art work: for then, in a loser wins logic of the dialectic, the “chance” or aleatory nature of such materials, concepts, etc., is revealed to be social after all – the return of class.
Loaded: 250 for Phil McCrum
Out on the stone surface I weighed the mitts, not enough, faithful, enough, worldly, frugal, ruthless, brazen, bragging, looking unsound, not yours, you are sound, four legs, many too many, dissolve, recognized another, spruced cube, plugged exposed nickel, permissive, bumping into a wall, listen to the experience, I cannot tell from welt who made it, none other, I demand to speak to, taste hurts, around do you do, once begun once unfinished, twice began you know the rest, sly, happy, faithful, flats in motion, devious, calm, vindictive, behind door number pretended, clumsy, sensitive, morbid, afraid, angry, bored, cheerful, me, snobby, you, stoic, me, surprised, you, suspicious, arrogant, conceited, confused, dignified, not the experience one has, envious, eager, in hearing or saying it, astonished, imperturbed, genial, taken for discernment, despondent, one would like to say, every word, different character, noble, baffled, one character, single physiognomy, bear qualities, it looks at us, cha cha cha, still looks at us, what has meanwhile altered, none and then some, but a face in a painting looks at us too, inch to the room, nailed down dust, word in edgewise, I may find some use for this word yet, but it is not now, what is it now, imperturbed, two of you are going into that room alone, another two of you are coming out, see, what has changed, the lightening, shmushed shadows now, anybody could do, long lost concentration, long time bearer, slack, cut off from the surface, doubtful.
“I always say that you cannot tell what a picture really is or what an object really is until you dust it everyday.”
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas