Paul McCarthy dominates the New York art scene this season
Every dog may have its day, but in the case of the provocative artist Paul McCarthy, the dog seems to be having a whole season. The artist is dominating the New York art scene this Spring with a little help from Hauser & Wirth gallery, which is devoting both of its spaces in the city to separate exhibitions of his work, as well as showing an 80ft tall McCarthy sculpture at Frieze Art Fair. Following these, his much anticipated installation, 'WS', will go on show at the Park Avenue Armory on 19 June - which you can preview in our very own McCarthy special in this month’s issue.
As our bound-in portfolio this month shows, McCarthy has been long obsessed with blurring the lines between reality and desire. By using the Walt Disney telling of Snow White and appropriating familiar ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ imagery (the focus of a third exhibition, ‘Rebel Dabble Babble’ opening at Hauser & Wirth downtown on 20 June) McCarthy’s perverse and erotic delivery is complex and impactful.
Last Friday, Hauser & Wirth’s new downtown space unveiled ‘Sculptures', a series of black walnut wood sculptures, inspired by McCarthy’s ongoing interpretation of the Snow White fairytale. McCarthy used a complex combination of woodcarving and bronze casting to create the perfectly twisted final products; each is larger-than-life and abstractedly misshapen to be more akin to the original German folk story than the popular naïve fairytale. One sculpture, ‘White Snow and Prince on Horseback’ show the happy couple, fused together at their enlarged heads, eerily riding off into the distance.
Concurrently at the gallery’s uptown space, ‘Life Cast’ showcases five platinum silicone life cast nude figures – four of McCarthy’s muse Elyse Poppers (who plays White Snow) and one of the artist himself. 'This is not looking at realism as a finality, but as a process,' the artist explained. '[The woman] is real, but she’s in a state of unreal because she’s not exactly there. It was about capturing the compression of time.'
'I made a series of drawings of my wife in the same [seated] position in the 1960s… and the subject came back to me about ten years ago,' McCarthy continued. 'I wanted to make this piece quite a long time ago. I think I was looking for someone who understood it. Looking for that was critical. I wasn’t looking for another fucking technician.'
The artist worked with a team of five to create the full scale, hyper-real sculptures, which depict even the tiniest details, from hairs on the arms to veins running underneath the skin, in full authenticity. 'You’re going deeper for a reason. You’re not making another sex doll. $10,000 will buy you anything. I believed in the subject and I needed people who believed in the subject.'
Another McCarthy work, ‘Balloon Dog’, is commanding attention at Frieze New York’s sculpture park on Randall’s Island. The vast sculpture is a real moving balloon, instead of a photographic sculpture that one might have expected. The no-holds-barred scale and pop-cultural tone is (Paul) McCarthyism at its best - and a great precursor to the grand reveal of ‘WS’ next month.