McCarthy's paintings represent the latest iteration of two major ongoing projects within his multidisciplinary practice: White Snow and Stagecoach. Pierre Huyghe presents "In border deep", that features all new work including film, site-specific sculpture, and a series of aquariums.
Paul McCarthy, one of the most provocative and influential voices in multimedia, sculpture and performance art, unveils new paintings in his first exhibition devoted to the medium since the 1980s. McCarthy’s paintings represent the latest iteration of two major ongoing projects within his multidisciplinary practice: White Snow and Stagecoach. In both series, archetypal American narratives are pitched against human drives and desires, and examined with McCarthy’s characteristic wit and subversion. Informed by his own tradition of improvised performance, scatological performative practices are played out on the canvas in a charged, gestural painting style motivated by material experimentation and psychological processes.
The White Snow project began as a suite of drawings in 2009, which drew on the fairytale Snow White and explored the multilayered references within the original German folk story and its commercialised 20th century versions. The series has since evolved into a multi-platform narrative of McCarthy’s own making, incorporating sculpture, performance and the epic installation ‘WS’, presented at the Park Avenue Armory, New York in 2013. In the WS paintings, McCarthy restages moments from his ‘WS’ performance and invents new scenarios entirely, recasting familiar characters in unfamiliar guises.
McCarthy combines his two central motifs with the language of painting as subject matter in itself, invoking the art historical canon as a framework for his narratives; in two paintings, McCarthy reworks the formal compositions of Edouard Manet’s ‘Le déjeuner sur l’herbe’ (1863) and ‘Olympia’ (1863). White Snow, usually a paragon of feminine virtue, is depicted as a garishly made-up, despoiled protagonist. In ‘WS, Dior’, McCarthy casts White Snow as Manet’s Olympia, but here she is an assertive figure aware of her seductive power as she regards a moustachioed character resembling Walt Disney in the foreground. Walt Disney continuously reappears as a character within McCarthy’s WS series as the pathetic and semi-autobiographical figure Walt Paul. Formally figured as Michaelangelo’s ‘Pietà’ (1498 – 1499), McCarthy creates a caricature of Christ in the arms of the Virgin Mary in the painting ‘WS, Christies’, where the central characters are replaced by farcical renderings of Walt Paul and White Snow and the gender roles are reversed.
Stagecoach is McCarthy’s second long-term project, based on the film of the same name, a 1939 American Western starring John Wayne. The movie follows a group of strangers travelling across the United States in a stagecoach pursued by Apache Indians. Here, McCarthy uses the Western as a recognisable structure from which to form alternative interpretations; the SC works focus on social interaction between the genders and ‘saloon girls’ reappear as central characters. A repeated castration theme is conveyed through textual references scrawled across the paintings like a mantra: ‘CUT OFF THE HEAD / CUT OFF THE PENIS’.
The Western genre is central to American masculine identity, and here McCarthy restructures reality using Hollywood’s tactics. He alludes to classic icons of martyrdom whilst exploiting film stars as characters in a sexual vaudeville. ‘SC, Leonardo DiCaprio’ can be read as a profane version of St. Sebastian, as the composition centres around a figure with hands tied symbolically behind its head and with legs spread wide. McCarthy employs a wealth of art historical references to render his figures as powerless and impotent; even the horse, conventionally deployed as a symbol for military prowess, is represented here limp and pink, barely capable of supporting his charge. Together, the SC paintings function as unscripted storyboards in which McCarthy reverberates between the central Stagecoach motif and male icons of the film industry in a series of sexual dreamscapes which form a starting point for a future Stagecoach performance and film.
McCarthy employs collage throughout these paintings, uniting a host of seemingly unconnected reference material such as ripped fragments of high-fashion magazines, images sourced from the Internet and three-dimensional objects including synthetic wigs, a pair of boots, a coffee table and soft toys that are wedged forcefully through the surface of his paintings. Within these works, McCarthy expertly weaves the history of painting with contemporary motifs in dramatic scenes that expose latent desire and exploit the uncomfortable space where childhood innocence meets adult knowledge.Exhibited alongside his paintings, a room of Hauser & Wirth’s Savile Row gallery is devoted to new drawings related to both White Snow and Stagecoach.
About the Artist
Born in 1945 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Paul McCarthy studied art at the University of Utah and went on to receive a BFA in painting at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1969. He studied film, video and art at the University of Southern California, receiving an MFA in 1972. From 1982 to 2002, he taught performance, video, installation and performance art history at the University of California, Los Angeles. Paul McCarthy lives and works in Los Angeles CA.
In October 2014, Monnaie de Paris will present a re-installation of ‘Chocolate Factory’, his first major solo exhibition in a Paris institution. McCarthy will also present a new large-scale inflatable sculpture in the Hors-les-Murs programme at FIAC, Paris.
In February 2014, McCarthy realised a collaborative exhibition project with Mike Bouchet at Portikus in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. In summer 2013, McCarthy presented three solo exhibitions at Hauser & Wirth New York 18th and 69th street. In June, ‘WS’ went on display at Park Avenue Armory in New York, McCarthy’s largest installation in the United States to date. Other solo exhibitions include ‘The Box’, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany (2012); the artist’s first transatlantic exhibitions, ‘The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship’ and ‘The Dwarves, The Forests’, which opened respectively at Hauser & Wirth London and Hauser & Wirth New York in 2011; ‘Pig Island’, Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan, Italy (2010); ‘White Snow’, Hauser & Wirth New York NY (2009); ‘Paul McCarthy – Air Pressure’, an exhibition of inflatable sculptures at De Uithof, City of Utrecht, Netherlands (2009); ‘Central Symmetrical Rotation Movement – Three Installations, Two Films’, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York NY (2008) and the travelling retrospective, ‘Paul McCarthy – Head Shop / Shop Head’ which first opened at Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (2006); and travelled to Aarhus Museum of Art, Aarhus, Denmark (2007) and Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (2007 – 2008).
In border deep
Hauser & Wirth is excited to announce Pierre Huyghe’s inaugural exhibition with the gallery. Huyghe works across media to create situations, cutting through time and boundaries, highlighting concepts of separation. ‘IN. BORDER. DEEP’ features all new work including film, site-specific sculpture, and a series of aquariums. Viewed as a whole, the exhibition reveals a chronology which spans 30 million years until the present day.
The starting point in the exhibition’s overarching chronology is a film in which Huyghe uses macro- and micro-scopic cameras to record insects encased in amber. It is a navigation through stone, in search of the earliest known specimen caught mid-copulation 30 millions years ago. The audio of Huyghe’s motion control camera whirring has been retained and heightened, a soundtrack that recalls the sensation of a mechanical shuttle. In these consecutive frames Huyghe explores an instant frozen in time.
A primitive stone tool lies in sedimentation on the gallery floor, marking the origin of man and the development of rudimentary engineering. For the site-specific work ‘The Clearing’, situated on the gallery’s far wall, Huyghe has mechanically sanded down layers of paint from the wall’s surface to reveal expanses of colour that had previously been covered over. Huyghe’s interest extends beyond the line and colour created by ‘The Clearing’ and into the geological formation of the wall; the limestone in the resulting deposit refers back to the particles that emerge from human remains. Huyghe explores the wall as a living artefact, and highlights the perpetual transformation of the gallery as a sphere.
Three aquariums placed in the gallery contain biotopes transplanted from Monet’s ponds in Giverny, the geo-engineered site made in 1893 and the subject matter of his ‘Nymphéas’ paintings. The water lilies floating on the surface of Huyghe’s ponds can be viewed constantly. The sides of the aquariums are encased in switchable glass that conceals their contents, then randomly exposes the living organisms that lie under the surface of the painted subject. Unlike Huyghe’s previous aquariums, the focus of these pieces is the sunken man-made objects that have been modified over time by natural elements. The lighting sequence for the aquariums is programmed according to a fast-paced rendering of the variations in weather conditions as recorded at Giverny between 1914 and 1918, when Monet painted the ‘Nymphéas’, now situated in the Musée de l’Orangerie. The sequence for each aquarium spans a specific, symbolic length of time: the shortest day of the year in 1914, the autumn of 1917 and the entire four-year period.
Upon entering the gallery space, the viewer encounters a reclining figure, a concrete cast of part of a monument originally created for an exhibition in 1931. In its current state, the sculpture is headless and overgrown with moss. It contains an internal heating device that roughly mirrors the human circulatory system, encouraging the growth of vegetation. The viewer is able to sense a body temperature emanating from the sculpture’s surface.
The ‘Human Mask’ film is inspired by a real situation in Japan, in which a monkey – wearing the mask of a young woman – has been trained to work as a waitress. The film opens with footage of the deserted site of Fukushima in 2011, the camera functioning as a drone scaling the wreckage. This is followed by scenes of the monkey alone in her habitat, silhouetted against the empty, dark restaurant. In this dystopian setting, an animal acts out the human condition, trapped, endlessly repeating her unconscious role.
About the Artist
A third presentation of Huyghe’s major touring retrospective will open at LACMA, Los Angeles in November 2014, following presentations at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France and Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany.
Pierre Huyghe was born in Paris, France in 1962. He studied at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris from 1982 – 1985. Recent solo presentations include an exhibition of screenings of Huyghe’s film ‘The Host and The Cloud’ (2009 – 2010) at Museo d’art Contemporani de Barcelona in Spain in April 2014; ‘El Dia del Ojo’, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico (2012); ‘Pierre Huyghe: Les Grands Ensembles’, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago IL (2010); La Saison des fêtes’, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo Reina Sofia / Palacio de Cristal, Madrid, Spain (2010); ‘Forest of Lines’, Sydney Opera House, in association with the Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2008); and ‘Celebration Park’, Tate Modern, London, England (2006) which travelled to ARC / Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France (2006).
In 2013 Huyghe was awarded the Roswitha Haftmann Prize in Zurich, Switzerland. He was also the recipient of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Contemporary Artist Award (2010), the Hugo Boss Prize (2002), the Special Jury Prize awarded by 49th Venice Binenale (2001) and received the DAAD Artist in Residence grant in Berlin (1999 – 2000).
The monograph ‘Pierre Huyghe’ was released in French in Autumn 2013 by Editions du Centre Pompidou, and the English version is due for publication in Autumn 2014 by Hirmer Publishers.
Image: WS, Dolce & Gabbana, 2014. Acrylic and collage on canvas mounted on board, 335.6 x 243.8 cm / 132 1/8 x 96 in © Paul McCarthy. All images courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen
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