Monday, July 3, 2017

Paul McCarthy: "WS Spinoffs, Wood Statues, Brown Rothkos" July 1 - Sept 17, 2017 at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles

Paul McCarthy
WS, Bookends
Black walnut
Bookends (Horizontal) (12'): 365.8 x 304 x 444 cm / 144 x 119 5/8 x 174 3/4 inches (overall dimensions)
Bookends (Vertical) (14'): 444 x 303.7 x 365.8 cm / 174 3/4 x 119 5/8 x 144 inches (overall dimensions)

Paul McCarthy “WS Spinoffs, Wood Statues, Brown Rothkos” July 1 - September 17, 2017, Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles

Like many of my generation, Walt Disney’s “Snow White” has a strong presence in my life. The year I was born, so was Disneyland. So I feel very much like the child of Disney, and keep in mind, that I never actually saw the Disney "Snow White and the Seven Drawfs" film, but just the byproducts of the movie that is very much part of my childhood culture. Paul McCarthy and I are only nine years apart, so I feel that him being an American and McCarthy exposed to Disney’s world around the same time as I, there is a common understanding of that culture. Beyond that, I rarely think of Disney as an adult, even though where I live (Silver Lake / Los Feliz) there are traces of this man’s work and his world. Again, hard to avoid. Paul McCarthy jumps into the Disney world with both feet, hands, and head. 

His current exhibition at the Hauser Wirth in Los Angeles is a fascinating show on many levels. When I walked into the gallery and confronted with these massive sculptures, I’m struck by not only the size of the works, but also the Black Walnut wood textures that convey the image of Snow White, The Prince, the horse, and the Seven Drawfs. I tend to draw myself to art exhibitions that take me from the outside world into another world of the artist’s making. McCarthy’s work does that in the extreme. My childhood memories came back to me that instant when I entered the show. I see the work as a re-mix version of my take on Disney’s Snow White.

Snow White came into existence courtesy of the Brothers Grimm, which they published in their first edition of “Grimms’ Fairy Tales.” In German, it’s title is “Schneewittchen. The final version of the Grimms’ version of Snow White appeared in 1854, the birth year of Oscar Wilde and 100 years away from my birth date as well. Disney, like McCarthy, totally did a re-write of the folk tale to serve his aesthetic and perhaps pleasure. I think the exhibition is not a commentary on the Grimms take of the story, but involved and obsessed with the Disney version. 

The sculptures are so grand that I also thought of various portraits of Napoleon done when he was alive. Heroic, on a grand scale, with emotions on the skin level. The fact that these sculptures made out of wood have an organic feeling of nature being contained to make a human’s vision. There is also kitsch added to the mixture, which reminds me of going to my Grandma’s house and she too, with his "WS, Bookends," had fairy tale figures as bookends. Disney became not only a thought but also a product. If we have to think about Cambell Soup through the eyes of Warhol, then clearly we have to think of Walt under the telescope of McCarthy. 

Snow White here (and always in my opinion) is very sexual. The boundaries between The Prince and Snow White are explicitly joined where there is no space between the figures. The same goes for the Seven Drawfs. It’s a combination of an orgy, pleasure, and perhaps pain. On the walls are McCarthy’s “Brown Rothkos” which gives the entire exhibition a sense of balance and placement. For me, it is like putting a period after the sentence. What I’ve read of the Brown Rothkos is that they are carpeting laid out in McCarthy’s designed forest in his exhibition that took place at Park Avenue Armory in 2013, and this is the drippings and residue of the individual trees that are painted on these carpets. Placed on the wall gives the work an importance, but also a connection perhaps the sculptures in this show and the exhibition at the Park Avenue Armory. In other words, these pieces can stand alone but are also connected theme-wise with other artworks by McCarthy. Like Disney’s world, it’s “a small world.”

Lucky me, I can go back to the exhibition again and again. It is both a journey into my childhood obsessions with the Disney motif, but also McCarthy’s take on a landscape that most in my (our) generation can relate to. (Un)happy Trails!

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