Paul McCarthy - Carte Blanche New York Sunday, November 7, 2010 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Hauser & Wirth, Zurich; Private collection, Paris

  • Exhibited

    Munich, Haus der Kunst, and London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Paul McCarthy – LaLa Land Parody Paradise, June 12, 2005 – January 8, 2006, pp. 121– 23 (illustrated; another example exhibited); Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Where Are We Going?: Selections from the François Pinault Collection, April 30 – October 1, 2006, pp. 238 – 39 (illustrated; another example exhibited); Klosterneuberg, Austria, Essl Museum, Passion for Art: 35th Anniversary of the Essl Collection, March 15 – August 26, 2007 (another example exhibited); London, Gagosian Gallery, Crash: Homage to JG Ballard, February 11 – April 1, 2010

  • Catalogue Essay

    Paul McCarthy, Mechanical Pig
    In the Grande Guignol of Paul McCarthy’s art, full of the exaggerated and the grotesque, Mechanical Pig is one of the few works that is seemingly naturalistic and straightforward. Not only is the sculpture life-size and made of materials that mimic the color and texture of animal skin with uncanny accuracy, it even pulses with the appearance of inner vitality: the pig breathes rhythmically and occasionally moves her feet, tongue and eyeballs, as if roused, but not woken, by a dream. In its imitation of life, Mechanical Pig thus outstrips nearly any painting or sculpture in the history of high art.
    But being a work by McCarthy, nothing here is as simple as the mere reproduction of reality. Animating the inanimate is a desire deeply ingrained in art, religion and myth. Whether as primordial creation (Adam), for the fulfillment of love (Pygmalion) or the execution of a difficult task (Golem), bringing form to life inevitably serves an active end. Wittily frustrating our expectations, McCarthy instead gives life to this sow only for her to spend it asleep. Moreover, like a sculpture on a pedestal, the pig is placed atop a set of machines that power its illusion of life, and the wires and pulleys that connect the pig and the machines are fully exposed to view. The pig is a simulacrum and simulation, but it is not a falsehood: McCarthy shows you how the trick is done.
    Mechanical Pig is a work of animatronics, the modern art of robotics used in amusement parks, cinema and animation. McCarthy turned to specialists in animatronics for help in making the piece. But by unmasking the means of its mimesis, McCarthy wants the viewer to see that the work is not simply a figment of nature, it also refers to the modern world of make-believe, the culture of illusion produced and distributed by mass media and entertainment. Indeed, Mechanical Pig looks like it could come from a ride at Disneyland, a constant source of ironic inspiration for McCarthy in his works such as Caribbean Pirates and Snow White. The French philosopher Jean Beaudrillard once wrote that Disneyland is “a copy of a copy, a simulacrum to the second power.” Likewise, Mechanical Pig is a copy of a copy.
    McCarthy is an iconoclast of an artist. The word “iconoclast” is often used as a term of praise of an innovative person, but the literal meaning of the word is someone who destroys works of art, and generally does so out of deep distrust of the power of art, which is deemed false and deluding. Throughout his career, in works such as Painter, McCarthy has sought to criticize and expose as false fundamental aspirations of Western art. In his text “Pig Island” in 2000, McCarthy wrote, “Representation of what does and does not exist / Art as cover-up”. McCarthy exemplifies the paradoxical position of being an artist who questions the good of art.
    To understand the roots of McCarthy’s iconoclasm, it is helpful to see him in relation to the work of the French philosopher Baudrillard, perhaps the most widely admired cultural critic in recent decades. This comparison is based not only a shared viewpoint, but also a commonality of associates. (Both McCarthy and Baudrillard have collaborated with the artist Mike Kelly.)
    There is a striking similarity between major themes in McCarthy’s work and those of the philosopher. For example, in his celebrated book, Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard said: “The transition from signs which simulate something to signs which dissimulate that there is nothing, marks the decisive turning point. The first implies a theology of truth . . . The second inaugurates an age of simulacra and simulation, in which there is no longer any God to recognize his own, nor any last judgment to separate truth from false, the real from its artificial resurrection.”
    Paul McCarthy was born two days before the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima; he graduated from college two months after the My Lai Massacre, and two months before the Manson family murder spree. McCarthy got his MFA degree the same year that Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize. Viewed against the disturbing background of modern America, it is easier to understand the elements of the grotesque, and the mood of horror in his work, underscored by intense irony and nihilistic doubt, both about the possibility of the good in social or political life and the humanistic, rational or transcendent in the arts. Dada was born in the shadow of World War I. The neo-Dada works of McCarthy and other artists of his generation were first made in the shadow of the Vietnam War.
    McCarthy has been based in California his entire career. He studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and taught at UCLA. In his range of themes and interests, he is very much a Californian artist, but his California is not only that of Disney, it is also that of Nathanial West’s Day of the Locusts, or Joan Didion’s White Album. There is a large dose of outrage in much of McCarthy’s art. He is attracted to outré forms of low visual culture, such as slasher films and pornography, both for the raw intensity of their imagery and for the crude power of their stylistics. He often makes works that are intended to challenge or disturb the viewer: hence his recent monumental sculpture of a gnome with a butt-plug. Such a work not only undermines the tradition of sculpture as a celebration of the good and the great, it also pushes beyond the modern and contemporary alternatives of public sculpture as a pursuit of pure beauty (e.g. Calder) or as a playful joke (e.g. Oldenburg). Unlike some of McCarthy’s works, Mechanical Pig has a fun and fun-house quality to it. It is an astonishing spectacle.

Property from the collection of stefan edlis and gael neeson


Mechanical Pig

Executed in 2005
Mechanical sculpture; silicone, platinum/fiberglass, metal,electrical components.
40 x 58 x 62 in. (101.6 x 147.3 x 157.5 cm).

This work is from an edition of 3 plus 1 AP.

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Carte Blanche

8 November 2010  6pm
New York