Paul McCarthy
Tate Modern: Exhibition
19 May 26 October 2003
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  • Paul McCarthy Blockhead Installation view at Tate Modern

    Paul McCarthy
    Blockhead
    Installation view at Tate Modern

    Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Zürich London

    © Paul McCarthy

  • Paul McCarthy Blockhead and Daddies Bighead

    Paul McCarthy
    Blockhead 2003 and Daddies Bighead 2003. Installation at Tate Modern, North Landscape.

    Courtesy: Hauser and Wirth Gallery London/Zurich and Luhring Augustine, New York
    © Paul McCarthy. Photocredit: Copyright Marcus Leith/Andrew Dunkley Tate Photography

  • Paul McCarthy Working Drawing for Blockhead

    Paul McCarthy
    Working Drawing for Blockhead 2003

    © the artist

Paul McCarthy at Tate Modern will feature the largest-ever inflatable sculptures outdoor on Tate Modern’s north landscape. On Level 5 there will be drawings and maquettes of the sculptures. Blockhead, newly commissioned from the American artist Paul McCarthy, will be over thirty-five metres high. The sculpture will be a spectacular addition to London’s Bankside and the first major installation on Tate Modern’s North Landscape.

Paul McCarthy (born 1945) is widely considered to be one of the most influential and groundbreaking artists of today. Using the language and imagery of the all-pervasive American consumer culture he grew up with, his work distorts and mutates the familiar into the disturbing and carnivalesque. McCarthy first became known in the 1970s for his visceral performances and film works but during the 1990s extended his practice into stand alone sculptural figures, installations and most recently a series of large inflatable sculptures.

His recent retrospective was shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2000, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, the Villa Arson, Nice, France and Tate Liverpool in 2001.

Blockhead will be loosely based on the character of Pinocchio, but as in much of McCarthy’s work, this popular children’s character is mutated to a form bordering on the grotesque. The work will combine this strange mutation with funfair spectacle. There will be an opening at the base of the figure leading into a cavernous hallway where visitors will be able to purchase specially made candy. The enormous scale of the figure is designed to physically overpower the viewer, an experience the artist has likened to standing at the bottom of a cliff, describing the inflatable as ‘an abstract that rises up and over your head’. However, this extraordinary physical presence will be seemingly negated by the black surface which McCarthy describes as creating ‘a black object’ which becomes ‘a hole in the landscape’. Among McCarthy’s earliest works was a series of black paintings made in 1967-68 and he has quoted several of the leading artists from this period, such as American sculptor Tony Smith, in reference to the starkness of Blockhead’s black form.

Shown alongside Blockhead will be Daddies Bighead, a second newly commissioned inflatable sculpture that will stand approximately half the height of Blockhead at sixteen metres tall. Daddies Bighead will be based on a ketchup bottle. Ketchup has been a pivotal motif through all of McCarthy’s work. He has frequently used ketchup in his performances and installations, along with other kitchen table foodstuffs such as mayonnaise and chocolate, as stand-ins for bodily fluids and excretions. These grocery staples of domestic family life are transformed in McCarthy’s work into representations of violence, sex and defecation.

The exhibition has been made possible by generous grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Norman and Rosita Winston Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Producers Council of the New Museum of Contemporary Art.