Paul McCarthy's 'Merica

While the horrific violence and death in the current war in Syria and the recent spate of terrorist incidents worldwide are clearly more disturbing than any visual artwork, it may be time to reassess Paul McCarthy's oeuvre in these trying times. Even his oversized mangled sculptural renditions of Disney figures, such as White Snow Dwarf, Sleepy #1 (Affected Original), 2009–2016, bring to mind the Bizarro World we currently inhabit. In McCarthy's world, Disney characters are enlarged, copied and then partially destroyed, a fractured version of the cloying originals, showing us the harsh truth of America's underbelly. The abject, a concept that McCarthy has mined for decades and represented visually with all the nuance of a sledgehammer, for some reason always bothers people more than actual violence. Murderous video games, such as Grand Theft Auto for example, are held to a high moral standard, while lax gun laws and insufficient background checks allow criminals, the mentally ill and terrorists easy access to weapons of destruction.

His more complex political tableaus, including Paula Jones (Original), 2005–2008 and Puppet (Original), 2005–2008, can no doubt be considered gross-out takes on historical narratives, but in the long run will they stand up to reality, such as President-elect Donald Trump's "grab them by the pussy" statement? Perhaps yes, since we do live in a culture that is primarily visual, and almost half of 'Merica has already deemed Trump's comments as not important enough to change their vote. Both groupings show a mélange of human and animal figures humping one another, pierced through the eyes with metal rods creating an irreverent union. They exude more gravitas in 2016 than when they were created, since many people are only beginning to grasp the tragedy of our fractured and dysfunctional republic and the horrors of the world at large.

Paul McCarthy, "Raw Spinoffs Continuations" at Hauser & Wirth, New York, November 10, 2016 – January 14, 2017

Paul McCarthy,  Paula Jones (Original) , 2005-2008 (detail). Photo: Chris Bors.

Paul McCarthy, Paula Jones (Original), 2005-2008 (detail). Photo: Chris Bors.