American sculptor, performance artist and video artist. McCarthy first developed a mode of violent performance painting, before he emerged as a performance artist in the early 1970s with a series of now notorious works. Interested in the parallels between American mass culture's pervasive infantilism and contemporary society's means of civilising young children, through toys and educational TV shows, he attempted to blur all the boundaries between childhood innocence and adult knowledge and sexuality. In Sailor's Meat (1975; see Rugoff, p. 47) he dressed in women's underwear and donned a blonde wig, while improvising with ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard to suggest bodily fluids. In the 1980s McCarthy began to concentrate on found object sculpture, exhibiting many of the props used in his performances and making kinetic sculptures. He gave up live performances in 1984 but continued to produce performances on video. In the 1990s he produced more realistic mannequin-like figures which continued to explore taboos surrounding sexuality and the nuclear family. Cultural Gothic (1992; see Rugoff, p. 64), a kinetic sculpture, showed a man standing over his son while the boy had sex with a goat. During this period McCarthy also began to make a series of static figurative sculptures reminiscent of theme park figures, mascots and consumer architecture. Spaghetti Man (1993; Montpellier, Fond. Rég. A. Contemp.) a large figure with a rabbit's head and a long spaghetti-like extension substituting for genitalia, demonstrates his continuing dependence on subversive humour, tastelessness and sexual subject matter to elicit a strong response.
R. Rugoff, K. Stiles and G. Di Pietrantonio: Paul McCarthy (London, 1996)
10 December 2000
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