Paul McCarthy

........«Santa Chocolate Shop» ( 23.8.- 18.10.1997 )


From August 23 until October 18 1997, the Hauser & Wirth Gallery presents the most recent installation - first shown at this year's Whitney Biennale -, «Santa Chocolate Shop,» by the celebrated American artist Paul McCarthy. McCarthy, who lives and works in Los Angeles, has his first show in Switzerland. He is today recognized as one of the leading figures of contemporary American art, an important forerunner to such artists as Mike Kelley, Raymond Pettibon, Charles Ray or Chris Burden. It is a great pleasure for the gallery to present his new, important large-scale work in Switzerland.

 Paul McCarthy began, in 1970, to record performances he did mostly at his studio on videotape, because he was interested primarily in phenomena of perception and illusion. He often filmed them upside down. These videos also show his fascination with acting both before and with the camera. Unlike his more recent work there were at first only a few props with which he acted or which were around. The dramatic structure of the performances was for the most part repetitious and intuitively designed. He started working with liquids early on: motor oil, ketchup, etc. One might say, however, that the performances were principally vehicles for his experiments with the video camera. The repetition of single, often improvised scenes not only produced concentration and nuances shifting the semantic field, but also an unusual form of objectivation of his early improvised performances, a factor that still plays a dominant role in his work.
At first - as a student of painting and later of film and video - he tried to combine painting, performance and video: performance and painting as forms of representation, and video as the fixation of these various worlds of reality. The performances are often staged as a sort of act of violence and a perversion of certain patterns of behaviour, always in combination with such devices as exaggeration, irony and grotesquerie. Comic book characters like Alfred E. Neumann enter the real world and act in a clownish and absurd way. McCarthy's performances have something traumatic about them, their nightmarish latency at the same time toppling over into a symbolism substituting for the clichés of everyday (Hollywood-dictated) patterns of behaviour. This is even more highlighted by the fact that in his performances he develops a strong relationship with space, which can be seen as relating to a general notion of home. He often uses sets that recall interiors - living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens. The table is his polyvalent metaphor. He either leaves its function intact, he acts on it or uses it to reach something else. This deals with questions of the separation or combination of the pedestal and the sculpture. The table also functions as an altar or for the preparation of food. In some way it stands for an elementary, general search for forms of activity or celebration. In this sense, the use of the table results in all the typical ways of action and signification of his artistic work. Paul McCarthy's work has something histrionic about it that, in its immediacy, develops its own reality at the same time. That is, his props - such as ketchup - do not principally represent themselves, but rather refer to something else, like blood in this case.
McCarthy is primarily interested in the imitation, appropriation, invention, representation of reality, which he questions at the same time. 

«I think that in part my work refer to my own private, forgotten or repressed memories and that I seem to play them out unconciously in my actions ... but I'm not sure how they relate to me. Are they specifically my traumas, or someone else's that I have witnessed either directly or through the media?» In his later work both the actions and the elements of his installations begin to fluctuate: the elements change their representation and their meanings in the ways they are used in the scenes and in the processes of repetition, which always undergo slight or easily detectable shifts and thereby force the viewer continually to change his response. «The bottle of mayonnaise within the action is no longer a bottle of mayonnaise; it is now a women's genitals. Or it is now a phallus. I suspect that that suspension of belief does exist within viewers, even though they cling to the concious interpretation that ketchup is ketchup. I suspect that they're disturbed when ketchup is blood.»


In Paul McCathy's most recent work, «Santa Chocolate Shop» (1997), these elements are reinforced. Even though the somewhat lop-sided house with its furniture, tables and artefacts still represents a specific space for action where he did performances (now with more than one actor) and repeated them several times, these performances are now integrated as films into the installation and thus become part of the work. Immediacy thus transforms itself into a new reality that - paradoxical as that may seem - in the shift of reality turns away from that with which it merges in the installation. «Santa Chocolate Shop» is the baroque expression of a will that concentrates, shifts and dissipates in the mise-en-scène of space and distancing of action. McCarthy's work is in this sense perhaps the most radical accusation of a perverted, stereotyped American way of life and behaviour that keeps between spectacle, irony and reduction and always remains totally conscious of the economy of the effect.