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Contemporary Art Gallery

555 Nelson Street
Vancouver, Canada
Open from Tuesday to
Sunday 12 pm → 6 pm

Admission always free
18 Mar 95until29 Apr 95

Phillip McCrum

Portrait Wall & Other Work

555 Hamilton St

A detail of work by Phillip McCrum. 14 times 9 small portrait photographs, each framed in black identical frames, are assembled on the wall.

During the past decade, Vancouver-based artist Phillip McCrum has been producing objects and installations that explore both aesthetic and ideological systems within art making practices and society. The work in this exhibition focuses on the portrait, specifically the “head shot,” a staple format of portraiture in which the face takes a central position as a factual declaration of the individual represented. Within this format, McCrum has engaged painting, snapshots, the news media, political icons, and popular culture to present a matrix of typologies that upset the systems that determine how portraits are categorized and consumed.

The long line of photocopies in the hallway evolves gradually from snapshots of friends to images taken from history books and the newspaper. A conflation between the two is accommodated by the printing technology employed. But, by the time one enters the gallery proper, the “everyday” person is replaced by the noteworthy.

With the large Lenin and Mao portraits, McCrum situates iconic political representations used for propaganda within the context of the art gallery. While these images maintain their political implications, visible evidence of the painting process is emphasized, and Lenin and Mao are presented within the genre of portraiture. McCrum's distortion of the idealized image of Lenin of Mao creates absurd and exaggerated portraits that contradict the authority embedded in them and skews our understanding of them.

Portrait Wall consists of more than 300 individually framed “head shots” extracted directly from the newspaper. The captions have been removed and paint has been applied to each face which transforms them into miniature paintings. Some appear familiar, some not. Without the benefit of captions, McCrum plays upon our desire to name who and what we are looking at, but frustrates the relationship between the portrayed and why they might be newsworthy. His application of fine art pigments to the temporal nature of newsprint brings the art object into an alliance with the banality of the daily newspaper photograph. With these different works, the portrait emerges as a complex system of coding that oscillates between documentation, power, fame,and art while engaging the viewer in sensations of the familiar and the foreign.


Phillip McCrum has exhibited at Or Gallery, Artspeak, Western Front, all Vancouver; Cold City Gallery, Toronto and the University of Moncton, New Brunswick. He was also Director/Curator for the Or Gallery, Assistant Director for Saw Video in Ottawa, and is currently co-editor for Boo Magazine published in Vancouver.

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