Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst or Marc Quinn, (the man behind a blood sculpture) artists are raw, self-centred and aggressive. But how about McCarthy? Ever seen his work? Decadent and gore.

Yet, American Paul McCarthy is blurring boundaries and coming to the fore with a film: Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3 and a show The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship at Hauser and Wirth in London Piccadilly and Saville Row.

First of all, McCarthy does not use common artistic tools and his creativity is celebrated with condiments: ketchup, mayonnaise, raw meat or whatever he can find that’s greasy. Part of the performance background, he applies it on himself  and surrounding objects adding a narrative. Gradually revolting. McCarthy works with ridicule breaking the rules of societal behaviour using frank sexual transgression, self-injury and mockery.

The first time I encountered McCarthy was at the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny, Ireland. The Butler is part of an antique fortress. The superb castle goes up and down and left to right like many castles do until a mysterious room in the rear end. Growls and moans break the silence of the long and luxurious aisle.

I enter when a gallery attendant stops me. The cries are coming loud and clear and I can see the corner of one of the video.

“Are you older than 18 years old?”
“You have to sign the register.”

I enter anxious, but it’s too late: a naked and circumcised masked boxer is facing me. His jabs are inward violently hitting head, stomach, head, left, right, genitals, genitals, head, genitals, pause. A ketchup bottle is opened and the content squirted into one of the glove then the self-harm restarts. Head, genitals, chest, genitals, genitals but with ketchup. Rocky (1976) is just pure delirium, a kick in the b***s of ethics or what is known of traditional creative expression. A further dissection of a false finger stuffed with sausage meat and I’m left shaking for the rest of the day.

Critics have compared McCarthy to the work of actionists: the harsh and violent self-harm movement. But the truth is rather different. His work is varied and although did the begignning of his creative life often implied asphyxia, gagging and injuries he later concentrates on derision: Heidi (1992) a 60 mn footage follows the tribulation of a puppet sporting Madonna’s face (Heidi) being fondled by her grandfather. No hurting is involved if the public’s moral.

McCarthy’s aspiration for aggressive, shocking behaviour, is preponderant in most of his works and although does it feel distasteful, the do-feel-gross-out effect is not even a centimetre close to the Chapman’s use of surprising horror; no surprise with McCarthy, it is blitzkriegly grotesque and express the mockery of a modern life of reality and taboos. Pushing the boundaries is McCarthy’s fair trade: shocking, disturbing and layered with insult thrusted towards consumer society. With Ketchup

Photo: Cakebox (detail, from Caribbean Pirates), 2001—2005. In collaboration with Damon McCarthy. Installation view, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany, 2005. Photo: A. Burger – Courtesy of Hauser and Wirth.


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