May 12th 2011

Paul McCarthy uses provocative and often satirically violent imagery to parody archetypal subjects in irreverent performance-based multimedia work. He explains, “My work seems to be about tearing down and opening up conventions.” During the 1970s, McCarthy videotaped himself performing strenuous physical tasks and graphic sex acts that transgressed normal codes of behavior to say the least. Later, he added elements of Hollywood, particularly Disney, through a cast of characters, masks, props, and the sets of former TV sitcoms. Through these production methods, explicit scenes, and comically sized phallic symbols, McCarthy perverts the cultural value of characters from children’s stories (Snow White, Pinocchio, and Heidi) and patriarchal figures (U.S. Presidents, pirates, and Willem de Kooning). In many of his erotically charged works, American food staples—mayonnaise, ketchup, and chocolate syrup—are used as stand-ins for bodily fluids. Filled with excess, his performances, sculptures, installations, and films break cultural taboos as a means to ridicule polite society.

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