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Paul McCarthy at The Box


Over his career, Paul McCarthy has made a name for himself as a kind of debased Renaissance man, creating massive, big-budget productions, but often appearing in his films with his pants off or covered in ketchup. His multi-genre practice often calls upon archetypes from American culture; Disney is a common motif. At The Box, a gallery run by McCarthy’s daughter, Mara, three series of works are on view. Each begins with a different archetype (pirates, Snow White, and Hitler) and explodes into an ecstatic blend of sculpture, drawing, and film. 

In one sculpture, inspired loosely by Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride (plus a sprinkling of the Iraq war), large plasticine figures sport white foam cowboy hats within a large float-like sculpture. One sits on top of a hodge-podge pedestal made from a phallic sculpture and two off-kilter sawhorses, and another appears to have a decapitated leg. Scraps of paper, melted wax, foam blocks, tools, and spindles of wire litter the installation. 

The sculpture, Chop Chop, Chopper, Amputation (Affected) (2013-2016), is part of a larger saga, as the artist’s works often are. “What the final result should be was never clarified, it was an open-ended process,” McCarthy said of adapting the piece’s initial drawings into the sculptural work. “I viewed it as a form of theater.” 

A film from the same series, which also used the drawings as a type of script, plays in the back gallery alongside two other film projects. The exhibition allows the opportunity to dive into McCarthy’s twisted world, where popular cultural icons become filtered through the artist’s id, and come out as art objects that push cultural norms, opening up new pathways for understanding.

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Photo: Paul McCarthy, Parts Make Up a Hole (installation view) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist and The Box.