Home » Manhattan: Museum Marathon Part Two – Paul McCarthy WS

Manhattan: Museum Marathon Part Two – Paul McCarthy WS

It’s taken me a while to digest the enormous, grotesque installation that California artist Paul McCarthy has installed at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, and that I travelled to New York a few weeks ago to see.

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The exhibition flyer. Image: armoryonpark.org

It is certainly an amazing installation, it’s like being in a film set. It’s completely excessive and I wondered if it was all that necessary. Parts of it were brilliant and others disturbing. But for an installation studded with sex-derived vignettes, I wasn’t disturbed by what you might expect.

The Park Avenue Armory is a huge space, a beautiful building dating from the 1800s on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was wickedly hot on the day we went to see it, which was perfect, since the mixed media & video installation was dark, relatively empty, and cool.

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Paul McCarthy, WS, 2013.Image courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth (via the_opsis.com) Photo: Joshua White

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Paul McCarthy, WS, 2013.Image courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth (via the_opsis.com) Photo: Joshua White

The room opens with a platform holding a series of rooms – a film set, essentially. The viewer climbs a few stairs to the platform and walks around the outside of a ‘house’, peering into the windows. Inside is clearly the aftermath of some kind of chaotic, debauched party. Furniture and detritus everywhere, remnants of food, booze etc. When you notice a band of large video screens mounted on the front wall and elsewhere in the space, you realize that they are where the action has taken place. In other words, the epic, seven-hour film was filmed in the spaces you’ve just peered into. The ‘action’ is a reworking of the fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a way that draws clear parallels to the repressed feelings of the unconscious in the human psyche.

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The installation, seen from the side. Image: wsj.com

It’s the anti-Disney. Where Snow White was all sweetness and light, WS (White Snow) is fecal matter, sex, murder, porn.

Behind the series of rooms was another installation that was (for me at least) the exhibition’s highlight. It was impossible not to marvel at the enormous man-made forest, also mounted on a platform so that as you walked through the pathways, you were eye-level to the earth, and made to feel particularly small and vulnerable. Like one imagines Snow White to feel, I guess. Or Little Red Riding Hood. A bit like something bad could happen any moment. Mysteriously, in the middle of the forest, visible but unreachable, was a house (a partial replica of McCarthy’s childhood home.)

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From the original Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, forever ruined in my mind after seeing WS. Image: About.com/Walt Disney Pictures

The videos feature a picture-perfect Snow White acting out a disgusting version of the fairytale (at one point she is seen to defacate brown paint across pristine white carpet) with McCarthy himself playing the character of Walt Disney, here known as ‘Walt Paul’. He’s perfectly cast as a dirty old man! There are dwarves, too. The sexual nature of the videos is what everyone talks about, and it was the most showy part of the exhibition. But apart from one video that I couldn’t take my eyes off (Walt Paul films Snow White in a typical director/actor or artist/subject kind of relationship, while she performs oral sex on his microphone) I felt the grossness of it all was so over the top that it seemed kind of funny and sad.

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Paul McCarthy, WS, 2013.Image courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth (via the_opsis.com) Photo: Joshua White

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The gift shop. Paul McCarthy, WS, 2013.Image courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth (via the_opsis.com) Photo: Joshua White

On my way out, I discovered what turned out to be by far my favorite part of the exhibition. Passing into the exhibition’s gift shop, I found all kinds of Disney Snow White memorabilia – dolls, outfits, souvenirs of every type– all signed in large black marker ‘Walt Paul, 2013’ by McCarthy and for sale, in an edition of 1200, for hundreds of dollars each.

That’s what struck me as really gross.

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