This month, Hauser & Wirth
debuts two simultaneous exhibitions with celebrated American artist Paul McCarthy that are united by the artists focus upon intractable myths, fantasies, and delusions coursing through contemporary society and consumer culture. On view 14 July, the online exhibition A&E Drawing Session, Santa Anita unveils a new series of twelve large scale drawings from McCarthys latest multidisciplinary project A&E (2019 - ). On 18 July, the exhibition Alpine Stories and other Dystopias will open at Tarmak 22, an exhibition space in Gstaad where visitors will find a selection of the artists drawings, photographs, sculptures, and video work from his acclaimed series Heidi, White Snow, Caribbean Pirates, and PROPO.
The online exhibition
Created during a series of freely improvised performances between Paul McCarthy and the German actress Lilith Stangenberg, A&E Drawing Session, Santa Anita comprises a group of twelve important new works on paper in which themes of violence and power coalesce. In keeping with McCarthys multidisciplinary oeuvre, the drawings have evolved out of the artists current film project NV Night Vader (2019 - ), based on Liliana Cavanis sadomasochistic erotic drama The Night Porter (1974). This epic film project features a deranged cast of characters, including McCarthy as Max, a mafioso-like Hollywood executive, and Stangenberg in the role of Lucia, the central character of the 1974 movie, who here plays a young German Actress.
Forming the narrative basis for these new drawings, NV Night Vader is a sharp critique of violence and exploitation, offering a powerful commentary on fascism, Hollywood, the contemporary art world, and the current political climate. The title acronym A&E which refers to Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, Adam and Eve, and Arts & Entertainment signals that this work carries the layered and multivalent force for which McCarthy is known. A&E finds the artist and the actress transformed into Hitler and Braun, with the former embodying predatory toxic masculinity and buffoonery, while Eva is at once lover, mother, daughter, and victim.
McCarthy once said, Drawing has always been a part of forming the so-called script, and these scripts can take different forms, In the works on view in Hauser & Wirths online exhibition, crude, expressionistic marks made during unrehearsed performative sessions have been captured on paper, conveying the motion and energy of a deeply consuming improvised event. The works exemplify McCarthys practice of drawing while in character, an approach that has become central to his large-scale video performance projects, including WS White Snow (201213) and CSSC Coach Stage Stage Coach (2017). As McCarthy has said, ... its always been about the process of improvisation, the creation of the unexpected action and dialogue.
The exhibition at Tarmak 22, Gstaad
Artist Paul McCarthy is perhaps most closely associated with his hometown of Los Angeles, a place whose Hollywoods illusions have fed his prodigious five-decade practice. But McCarthy is also something of an honorary citizen of Switzerland, an enthusiast of all things Swiss who can trace unlikely connections between the sublime landscape and stories of the alpine nation, and the magical kingdom of LAs Disneyland. I was really into the Matterhorn at Disneyland because I was also into the real Matterhorn and mountains and climbing, he has said. The whole alpine aesthetic chalets, cuckoo clocks, knotty pine, boots, parkas and all that. Making a piece that references Disneyland directly didnt happen until I moved to LA. My interest in Disneyland spins out of my interest in Hollywood.
Beginning 18 July, Hauser & Wirth will present Alpine Stories and other Dystopias at Tarmak 22 in Gstaad, bringing together a selection of works by McCarthy that span two decades and various mediums to reveal the provocative ways in which both worlds the storied Swiss Alps and the ersatz magic of Hollywoods Disney fantasies overlap, intertwine, and refract in startlingly powerful ways. Themes of innocence and utopia, and their inverses of depravity and dystopia, course through the drawings, photographs, sculptures, and video work on view. These have been selected from the artists celebrated large-scale projects and series Heidi, White Snow, and Caribbean Pirates, as well as his PROPO photographs.
McCarthy looks beneath the endearing façades of classic Disney productions and the sanitized versions of European fables, to excavate the untamed urges and pathologies of their real world parallels. Deploying humor and irony in such series as White Snow and Caribbean Pirates, he fleshes out familiar characters as avatars of the libidinousness, violence, conflict, and chaos of human society. The walnut sculpture WS, White Snow Dopey Dopey Head, Five Feet (2014), for example, conjures perverse visions of Snow Whites relationship with the dwarf Dopey from Disneys beloved 1937 animated classic film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This sculpture is among five White Snow works in the exhibition that take the famous fairytale as a springboard for exploring the Oedipal complexities of family, the institutionalization of history, and the urges of pop culture consumption. Among these works is the large scale sculpture White Snow Head (2012), a flesh-colored silicone rendering of the princess with the aspect of a toppled idol from antiquity. Taking on another beloved icon, McCarthys Santa (with Butt Plug) Bronze (2004) embraces debauchery and desire as part of the territory where our fundamental impulses collide with our most cherished myths and hypocritical societal norms.
These works acquire additional layers of meaning in the setting of Tarmak 22, with its monumental windows offering views of the Alpine landscape outside, and in juxtaposition with key works from McCarthys Heidi series. The artist has stated that the purity of Alpine culture is not pure. He explored this notion in his landmark 1992 video work Heidi, made with fellow artist Mike Kelley. The opus, on view here, was inspired by the eponymous 1881 childrens book by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, a story not uncoincidentally made into a Disney television spectacular in 1993. Heidi File (2000), a collection of photographs taken from found images, finds McCarthy returning to the iconic Swiss character as subject matter. Using material drawn from posters, maps, magazines, and other ephemera, he explores the many possible incarnations of the innocent mountain girl. By displaying the different representations of the heroine and her Alpine environment, McCarthy juxtaposes the banality of advertisements and found objects, with their insidious manipulation of innocence, to awaken viewers to the darker dystopian truths of mass consumer culture.