Monday, January 09, 2006

Paul McCarthy

Finally managed to visit the Whitechapel’s big Paul McCarthy spectacular on its closing weekend, apparently the same idea as everyone else in London as it was packed. The main attraction was the off-site warehouse installation at the top of Brick Lane, but the gallery itself had a respectable round up of sculpture, drawing, and photographic documentation of old and new performances (woman gets leg chopped off, artist splatts paint on the wall etc). In the normal contemporary, market-based manner, the drawings were ostensibly ‘working drawings’ for a suite of films. This is meant to give them heavyweight art status but I was largely unimpressed. The vigorously worked pencil lines and written annotations just look like mannerism to me. In fact the whole question of mannerism vs authenticity kept ringing through my head as I strolled around this show in the company of so many other art afficionados.
McCarthy’s project combines cathartic desublimation on a personal level with a generalised attack on all (particularly patriarchal) authority figures. But it seems to me that he really peaked a few years ago with his animatronic figures and films like Heidi (maybe Mike Kelly’s involvement with that one helped, too). International success has led him to make bloated, kunsthalle-filling spectacles that are nowadays more pantomime than visceral affectivity-fest. Watching the cavorting actors in this new set of films it occurred to me that they were more concerned with showing the label on the tin of syrup to the camera than engaging with the stuff itself. It was all play acting, a crescendo without climax. Enough of a thrill to titillate the art audience, perhaps, but at the end of the day less cathartic than an episode of CSI.
The warehouse installation was probably the physically biggest thing I’ve seen outside of the Tate in recent years, and did have a certain sculptural thrill. The run-down building itself played a big role, providing some great shabby rooms for video projections, and a nice set of stairs from which to survey the scene. A series of boats, platforms and boatlike-sculptures made up the set on which McCarthy’s videos were filmed, although since this exhibition originally came over from Germany they were presumably carefully disassembled, wrapped and crated to be brought over here. This imperfect indexicality grated a little, and again underlined the fetishising of the “film set” as artwork, rather than any more genuine chance for the audience to mentally project themselves into the action. Gallons of fake blood, syrup and indeterminate gunk had long ago dried up to make artfully abstract expressionist paintings across the walls and tabletops of the different spaces. But strangely, it all came across as rather tame. With no opportunity to join in (as per Herman Nitsch) we were left at a safe distance to enjoy the spectacle of half hearted debauchery and wonder if we’d got any muck on our clothes by accident. Based as it was on Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, the whole installation was essentially low culture for people who are too posh for the real thing.


Anonymous canvas art said...

Well said!

3:37 pm  

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