Paul McCarthy, "White Snow"
Lewd doodles of Snow White? We'll wait for the sculptures, thanks.
Wed Nov 25 2009
TR.BAL.#21; Photographs: Paul McCarthy, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5
Paul McCarthy’s trademark work tends to be irresistibly over-the-top—take his barf-inducing performance pieces or his massive Santa with Butt Plug sculptures, for instance. But a drawings-only show? Eh. No matter how daring the content (and hell, nothing is really daring these days), McCarthy’s two-dimensional work simply cannot live up to the ball-busting precedent he set by creating an inflatable pile of shit and a fully functional chocolate factory in a New York gallery (made to churn out small chocolate versions of the aforementioned Santa, of course). Granted, the current drawings, all centered on a 19th-century German tale and its 1937 Disney rendition, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, are studies for future work, but presented this way—as pieces unto themselves—they underwhelm.
The plans McCarthy lays with these small pencil drawings and large-scale oil-stick works draw attention to the odd story of Snow White—which, upon reflection, is pretty damn weird (as McCarthy suggested back in 2000 with his markedly sinister installation, Dwarf Head): What are all those mini men really thinking about the good-looking Miss White, anyway? The brothers Grimm may have spared us the details, but the sexual undertones in the dwarfs’ admiration for their beautiful housemate are pretty inescapable. In McCarthy’s hands, the fairy tale is cast in an unsparingly lascivious light, its main character a sexpot who takes up with her prince while her animal friends linger, their junk hanging out all over the place (oh yes, even Bambi and Thumper have humanoid privates in these pictures).
“Dwarf Heads,” in the upstairs gallery, is a series of delicate pencil-on-vellum portraits that depict the little guys with penises for noses. Sleepy bears a long, flaccid member in the middle of his face; Dopey’s is hopefully erect. While the images are momentarily funny, McCarthy’s obsession with genitalia is run-of-the-mill; these drawings pack the punch of an adolescent boy’s doodles.
Not surprisingly, scatological concerns abound too. In another pencil series upstairs, Snow White does her business while her furry forest-dwelling friends watch, all agape (in McCarthy’s twisted world, alabaster innocents have crazy sex and wild animals are shocked at the prospect of taking a crap in nature). In many of the other drawings, Snow White poops into a pie plate. The juxtaposition of excreting and eating is as repulsive as it gets, but still...not shocking. McCarthy seems to have forgotten that “2 Girls 1 Cup” inured us to that many moons ago.
And speaking of inurement, the large-scale drawings on the gallery’s ground floor focus on issues that are woefully well-trodden. The pieces are populated with torn-out porno shots (yeah, kinda funny next to the scribbled refrain SOME DAY MY PRINCE WILL COME) and magazine photos of Britney Spears, Farrah Fawcett and Jennifer Aniston, among others. A page from a 1995 issue of FHM declares Angelina Jolie Sexiest Woman of the Year. It’s notable (and tiresome) that we’re still trying to determine who’s the fairest of them all. But there’s nothing new or exciting about calling attention to the media’s overt obsession with unrealistically hot women, and while his heart may ultimately be in the right place, feminismwise, McCarthy clearly gets off on the misogynistic messages he’s purportedly criticizing.
The oil-stick works—and Snow White’s vacuous eyes—bring to mind De Kooning’s women; the objects affixed to some of the drawings (that paper towel roll standing erect in Shoe Penis, a latex glove and a paintbrush in Dopwhite) are so Rauschenberg. Meanwhile, the pencil drawings from afar might as well be the work of some Old Master. McCarthy is tearing into the fairy tale past of art history, too.
There is an admirable audacity in making monuments to human beings’ basest habits, and McCarthy is most successful when he triggers our gag reflexes in an effort to point out the pitiful state of society and politics. But bringing the viewer into the thought process behind the work—much of which succeeds precisely because of its slick, hyperproduced quality—is unnecessary. It’s one thing to present a show of preparatory sketches for the Piet; having seen the finished product, it’s a thrill to get a peek into the making of the masterpiece. But plans for artworks that have yet to be made—especially those with little new to say—are nothing but an ineffectual cock-tease.
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