Tate Modern North Lawn
19 May – 26 October 2003
Two newly commissioned inflatable sculptures by American artist Paul McCarthy form the first major installation on Tate Modern’s North Landscape. McCarthy is considered one of the most influential and groundbreaking artists of today. Through the works Blockhead and Daddies Bighead McCarthy continues his career-long exploration of American popular culture and stereotypes.
Paul McCarthy (born 1945) uses the language and imagery of the all-pervasive American consumer culture he grew up with, in work that 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 is loosely based on the character of Pinocchio, but as in much of McCarthy’s work, this popular children’s character is mutated, on this occasion with funfair spectacle. There is 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 (the sculpture is some thirty five metres high) 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 is Daddies Bighead, a second newly commissioned inflatable sculpture that stands approximately half the height of Blockhead at sixteen metres tall. Daddies Bighead is 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 grocery stables of domestic life such as mayonnaise and chocolate, as stand-ins for bodily fluids.