View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Dog is one of twenty works produced by contemporary artists for the Cubitt Print Box in 2000. Cubitt is an artist-run gallery and studio complex in north London. In 2001 the complex moved from King’s Cross to Islington and the prints were commissioned as part of a drive to raise funds to help finance the move, and to support future exhibitions and events at the new gallery space. All the artists who contributed to the project had previously taken part in Cubitt’s programme. The portfolio was produced in an edition of 100 with twenty artists’ proofs; Tate’s copy is number sixty-six in the series.
McCarthy’s print is a unique colour Polaroid photograph of a German Shepherd dog sitting on a blue blanket in a domestic interior. For the Cubitt series the artist took 120 photographs documenting the illness and subsequent death of his pet dog. Most of these are in colour but the final images in the sequence are black and white. The image in Tate’s collection was taken from a low perspective with the camera positioned on the floor looking up at the dog. Two images are superimposed in the photograph. In one the dog’s placid head is turned to the left; in the other he looks up and to the right, his mouth open mid-bark. The overlapping images produce a soft-focus blurring which accentuates McCarthy’s amateur snapshot aesthetic. The doubled head suggests the Greek myth about Cerberus, the three-headed dog who acted as a gate-keeper to the underworld. More prosaically the overlaid images denote the passage of time. In the foreground two white tabs from the instant camera lie discarded on the dark wood floor, evidence of the process involved in making the picture.
McCarthy is one of the more established contributors to the Cubitt portfolio. Based in Los Angeles, he is best known for confrontational performances and installations which highlight the repression and hypocrisy of western consumer culture. In live and filmed performances he assumes the character of demented and perverse authority figures. Often wearing junk shop masks, he used materials like ketchup, mayonnaise and hand cream to simulate bodily fluids in messy, visceral rituals (see Rocky, 1976, Tate T07713). In the 1990s he began making more complex installations, including a recent commission at Tate Modern comprising two large-scale inflatable sculptures which reference Disney characters, minimal sculpture and cheap condiments.
McCarthy has consistently emphasised a bestial physicality in his depiction of human beings. Dog is a more private work that reflects the artist’s compassion and empathy with an animal at the end of his life. While the photograph’s small scale and apparent simplicity contrast with some of McCarthy’s more ambitious work, its elegiac quality attests to the artist’s commitment to his subject.
Dan Cameron, Amelia Jones and Anthony Vidler, Paul McCarthy, exhibition catalogue, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, 2000.
Ralph Rugoff, Kristine Stiles and Giacinto Di Pietrantonio, Paul McCarthy, London, 1996.
David Thorp, Frances Morris, Sarah Glennie and James Rondeau, Paul McCarthy at Tate Modern, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London, 2003.