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Absurdist Paul McCarthy artwork added to Boijmans collection
Paul McCarthy, 'Bunkhouse' (1996), Boijmans Ahoy drive thru museum, 2020. Photo: Ernst Moritz.

ROTTERDAM.- Bunkhouse, Paul McCarthy’s cutting caricature of the American Dream, has been added to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection. Rotterdam now boasts a second McCarthy showpiece, alongside his controversial Santa Claus.

Paul McCarthy’s Bunkhouse (1996) has been added to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s collection thanks to the generous support of the Mondriaan Fund, BankGiro Loterij and the Fonds Van Rede. Covering 168 square metres, this installation was already a crown jewel in the museum’s successful drive-thru exhibition that was staged at the Rotterdam Ahoy in the summer of 2020. With Bunkhouse Boijmans can claim a scoop: it is the first time that such a monumental installation by McCarthy has been added to a Dutch museum collection. Over the course of 2022 Bunkhouse will be documented and preserved in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen in full public view, then prepared for storage or to loan it out for presentation.

Sjarel Ex, Director of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: “It’s wonderful that we have managed to bring Bunkhouse to Rotterdam with the backing of the Mondriaan Fund, BankGiro Loterij and Fonds Van Rede. The city has gained a provocative masterpiece—the first monumental McCarthy installation in a Dutch museum collection. The museum is a sanctuary for art, especially if it’s so absurdist and non-conformist as the work of McCarthy.”

A lewd scene

Bunkhouse calls to mind a morbid fun-fair attraction, the fakery of a film set with uncanny, cartoonish figures from the American frontier, frozen grimaces, a dog's head, jerky animation. The installation is large, measuring 21 x 8 x 4.5 metres, and presents a railway track with a red log cabin riding along it, finished with a small porch in Wild West style. It seems as if the rail-mounted cabin has smashed through the scenery of a Hollywood Western. The hut’s amiable cowboy look degenerates into an absurdist, lewd scene—what happens when cowboys in a cabin are apparently bored. You can hear a clacking mechanical noise and there is a racket from the wild shaking of the metal bed. The caricature of Disneyland is represented as a seedy ‘bad trip’.

Black sheep

Having started out as a performance artist in the 1970s, within a few decades McCarthy became a black sheep of the USA’s contemporary art. In his oeuvre he uses his cutting caricatures to ridicule the American Dream and broaches injustice, oppression and hypocrisy. There is no president, Hollywood film hero or cartoon character who seems to elude McCarthy’s unbridled derision. The arrival of the first Paul McCarthy artwork in Rotterdam caused a commotion, one of the fiercest in the city’s post-war history. The city that since 1945 has invested in more than 1,000 sculptures in the public space ended up in a public row about the sculpture Santa Claus (2001), which has now been embraced as an icon on the Eendrachtsplein square in Rotterdam.

Affinity with other artists

McCarthy’s oeuvre is aligned with a range of artists from various periods whose work is also part of the museum collection: Bruce Nauman, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney and Mike Kelley are other artists who pillory the dark side of American society. But McCarthy’s themes are also connected with the artworks and writings of Surrealists such as André Breton, J.H. Moesman, Hans Bellmer and Unica Zürn. The museum is the steward of a significant collection of Surrealist art, which at the same time demonstrates how artists are constantly finding new materials and forms to explore the depths of human subconsciousness. A tradition that stretches from the old masters to the present day and was explored in the exhibition La La La Human Steps (2014) by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

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