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Paul McCarthy's Quasi-Religious, Action-Packed Gallery Takeover

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PAUL MCCARTHY
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It's McCarthy across the board at Hauser & Wirth this month. The gallery is showing the Los Angeles-based artist's action-performance psychosexual, popular culture influenced sculptures, video works and installations at both London locations (Piccadilly and Savile Row), and in St. James Park, as well as at the Upper East Side, New York location. (At Hauser & Wirth's Zurich location, McCarthy's daughter Mara McCarthy, director at The Box gallery in Los Angeles, curated "The Historical Box," featuring sculpture, drawing and photography by John Altoon, Judith Bernstein, Simone Forti, Wally Hedrick, Robert Mallary, Barbara T. Smith and Stan VanDerBeek.)

In the London show, which is scattered around Piccadilly and into Mayfair, you'll find many of the same themes that McCarthy has been exploring for the last decade, including the Pepto-Bismol colored daisy chain of President George W. Bushes copulating with pigs, Train, Mechanical (2003-2010), in a part uncomfortable, part humorous experience.

Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Steel, platinum silicone, fiberglass, rope, electrical and mechanical components, 276.9 x 152.4 x 566.4 cm / 109 x 60 x 223 in. Installation view, "Paul McCarthy. The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship," Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, 2011. © Paul McCarthy, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Filming by: Alex Delfanne

For those who didn't get to see McCarthy's Pig Island, 2003-2010, at the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in summer 2010, it's now on view in the North Gallery of the Savile Row space, with viewing ladders/platforms from which to get a better view of the re-creation of McCarthy's cluttered studio, with everything from parts of an old drum set to used fried chicken buckets and a dog's cage, tufts of hair and all.

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Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003 - 2010. Mixed materials, 1067.5 x 915 x 518.5 cm / 420 1/4 x 360 1/4 x 204 1/8 in Installation view, "Paul McCarthy. The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship," Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, 2011. © Paul McCarthy, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Alex Delfanne

At the Piccadilly location, The King (2006-2011) comprises a hyper-realistic rubber representation of McCarthy sitting on a swivel chair in what looks like the re-creation of a painting studio that is elevated on an alter-like structure. (I learn later that the structure was originally built in Los Angeles for a commercial painter hired by McCarthy to make the large-scale paintings of appropriated images, which look like they were culled from the Web, that are propped up against the gallery's wood-paneled walls). Pews lined up in front of this pseudo-alter give the viewers a better view of McCarthy's rotund nude body, or that of his look-alike dummy (dressed in a long blond wig), certainly a site to be seen.

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Paul McCarthy, The King, 2006 - 2011. Multimedia installation; Acrylic on canvas stretched over board, wood stage, lighting, life cast, 4 pews. Overall footprint: 6.20 x 12.20 x 8.45 m / 20' 3" h x 40' x 27' 7 in. Installation view, "Paul McCarthy. The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship," Hauser & Wirth London, Piccadilly, 2011. © Paul McCarthy, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Alex Delfanne

McCarthy has been known to shock, or disgust, but several of the works in London give viewers less of the egoistic and slightly deranged McCarthy and offer more of a deconstructed and introspective view into his practice. We see this in the films the artist offers viewers, showing the process with which he makes his life-like models. This process in itself is a new side of McCarthy, the patience and Zen one needs to go through the modeling process (including being layered in putty and latex, letting this dry before it is carefully, and potentially painfully, peeled off his body). If McCarthy can go through this, he must certainly have a meditative side.

In McCarthy's kinetic sculpture Mad House Jr. (2011), a relative to his 2008 work Mad House, the artist loses the shock tactic and instead goes for a disorienting, dizzying approach. The work comprises a small mechanical house spinning around like a ride one might see in an amusement park, the jerking, spinning, tilting rides that you hope to god your kids won't ask you to take them on. McCarthy gives us the effect without the neck kinks.

Paul McCarthy, Mad House Jr., 2011. Steel, plywood, electric cabinet, projection, 121.2 x 106.7 x 106.7 cm / 47 3/4 x 42 x 42 in. Installation view, "Paul McCarthy. The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship," Hauser & Wirth London, Piccadilly, 2011. © Paul McCarthy, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Filming by: Alex Delfanne

A video camera inside the work displays the disoriented moving image on a wall opposite the spinning house. The video captures the insanity of an amusement part ride without the nausea. It feels like McCarthy's attempt to show the viewer his thinking, a peek into his head. He presents this more explicitly in a series of three preliminary drawings for Mad House Jr.. The drawings are among my favorite works in the show, with intense scribbles in charcoal that are almost as dizzying as the kinetic work. Words and phrases like, "Motion Image Makes Stupid," "inside, outside, inside, outside, inside, outside," "so sick," "dizzy erection" and "disorientation" are written.

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Paul McCarthy, Mad House Drawing 1 and Mad House Drawing 2, both 2011. Pencil, charcoal on paper, 209 x 151 cm / 82 1/4 x 59 1/2 in. © Paul McCarthy, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne

Jason Edward Kaufman wrote in a 2010 review of McCarthy's show at L&M Arts in Los Angeles, "McCarthy's cartoonish imagery operates with all the nuance of a raised middle finger." McCarthy's transcontinental Hauser & Wirth show operates in a similar wry way, however there's also a sense that the artist, perhaps as a result of his older age, is starting to let down his cynical guard. While he's still making his cultural and political opinions clear--they have not been toned down (which is not to say that they should be)--he's also offering the viewers a more introspective and self-reflective McCarthy, resulting in a more personal and resonant show.

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Paul McCarthy, Ship Adrift, Ship of Fools, 2010-2011. Bronze, 515.6 x 365.8 x 731.5 cm / 203 x 144 x 288 in. Installation view, "Paul McCarthy. The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship," St James's Square, London, 2011. © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne

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Paul McCarthy, White Snow and Dopey, Wood, 2011. Black walnut, 304.8 x 196.85 x 103.5 cm / 120 x 77 1/2 x 40 3/4 in. Installation view from "Paul McCarthy. The Dwarves, The Forests," Hauser & Wirth, New York. © Paul McCarthy, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Thomas Mueller