Paul McCarthy

(b. 1945)

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(1945– )

American sculptor, video and performance artist, born in Salt Lake City, Utah. His work engages with extremes of scatology, sexuality, and violence, and he has sometimes been compared to the Vienna Actionists, although he has insisted that unlike them he is concerned with ketchup rather than blood. He has worked in collaboration with Mike Kelley and one of his best-known works is the video Heidi, which they made together. This shows the much-loved heroine of the Swiss children's story engaging in sexual rituals with her grandfather. The target is not just the sentimentality of the story: the video has a soundtrack on which is read Adolf Loos's 1908 essay ‘Ornament and Crime’. This text became a rallying cry for Modern Movement austerity, denouncing superfluous decoration on architecture as being as barbaric and infantile as the tattooing of the body. At one point in the video we see that Heidi's buttocks are tattooed, while the preoccupation with excrement opposes the ‘cleanliness’ associated with modern architecture. An added irony is that Loos was eventually disgraced as the result of a paedophile scandal. Painter (1995) is sometimes considered to be a satire on Willem de Kooning, who, by the time the film was made, was known to be mentally incapacitated. McCarthy, grotesquely masked, kisses the buttocks of a collector, futilely attempts to paint, and finally attacks outsize fingers with a knife until they spurt blood. McCarthy has also made inflatable sculpture. In 2008 a gigantic blow-up dog turd was blown from its moorings in an exhibition in Berne and created havoc.

Further Reading

M. Duncan, ‘Daddy's Little Helper’, Frieze issue 10 (May 1993)

Subjects: Art.

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