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Paul McCarthy, WS, 2013, photo Joshua White Paul McCarthy, WS, 2013, photo Joshua White
courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
It was a Paul McCarthy fest in New York throughout July with three exhibitions including the massive work at Park Avenue Armory, WS, a psychosexual retelling of Snow White. No artist distills the excesses of American mass culture as McCarthy does. His infantile and excremental performances, full of repressed sexuality and latent violence, expose what really lies beneath the veneer of all those saccharine wholesome ‘family values.’

McCarthy has pushed against constructed notions of normality for the last 40 years. However nothing prepared me for the extremes of WS, which was elemental and primitive in its urgency, its sheer scale and excessiveness in direct proportion to the penetration of the Disney empire into the American psyche.

The Park Avenue Armory, set among exclusive apartments on the upper East Side, is a bizarre setting for the staging of a McCarthy exhibition: a clean and proper exterior for an out of control and messy interior. Entering the massive doors of the Armory, I am aware of the first of many of the skewed worlds that McCarthy offers. WS, or White Snow, is an inverted remix of Snow White, taking the form of a depraved, drunken house party, with McCarthy appearing in many of the video works as a Walt Disney figure or Walt Paul. The Snow White and the Seven Dwarves story, first remixed by Disney in 1937 from The Brothers Grimm original, is in McCarthy’s version, like The Grimms’, visceral and violent.

WS is an insanely ambitious work, including over seven hours of videos, all of which require multiple visits to get through, and a massive enchanted forest with over 50,000 artificial plants and towering trees that are entirely excremental in appearance. Set amid this forest is a recreation of McCarthy’s original, ranch style family home.

Taking over 85 trucks to transport it from McCarthy’s studio in Los Angeles, WS is on the scale of a Hollywood production, appearing like a soundstage, complete with visible camera crews, scaffolding and lighting rigs. McCarthy’s creation is another of his perverse versions of Hollywoodland. Recently the artist purchased over a 1000 acres of desert scrubland to recreate his own fucked-up western town—McCarthy’s Dodge City. I can’t think of any other artist who works on such an enormous theme park scale. His target is mass culture so the idea of more is more and bigger is better has a crazy logic to it. As Walt Paul exclaims in a fit of repeated frustration while in bed with White Snow, “Why does it have to be so big?” “Why does if have to be so big?”

One of the first elements one encounters in WS is sound, an overwhelming orgy of infantile groaning, occasional fits of laughter and screaming fill out the massive Drill Hall of the Park Armory, accompanying videos of Walt Paul, with chocolate sauce soiled underpants around his ankles, frantically screaming at his family of inbred cavorting dwarfs. Walt Paul appears at different times as father, lover, dictator and slave to White Snow. This is Disneyland on crack.

WS provides further weird viewpoints and inside-out spaces: massive billboard-sized video screens; secluded spaces with even darker video content; balcony views allowing one to survey McCarthy’s sprawling Disneyland from above; and views directly behind the massive video screens. These multiple vantage points are echoed in The Dwarf’s house. We peer in through the windows, viewing a crime scene: Walt’s demise, a broom handle shoved in his mouth and exiting his anus.

Such multiple viewpoints ensure the audience is made well aware of the artifice, the fakery of McCarthy’s sound stage. Ultimately he is making the point that mass culture is projected onto us, its reality a slippery construction. On leaving WS one could enter a deranged Disney gift shop, with all manner of Disney merchandise sprawled out over the room, crudely signed and editioned by Walt Paul.

McCarthy is the sublime king of perversion and WS a lasting testament that art doesn’t need to make you feel good about the world to be interesting. John Waters wanted to make films that made you feel dirty, McCarthy’s art makes you feel not just dirty but in need of a good hose down.

RealTime issue #116 Aug-Sept 2013 pg. 52-53

© Ian Haig; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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