The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship

    n three separate locations, Paul McCarthy fabricates a seedy spectacle in a pleasantly obscene return to the U.K.


    If you’re familiar with the career of Paul McCarthy, vulgarity is an expectation, if not normality for the musings of a man famous for building extravagant sets in which to host grotesque scenes, libellously acted out by frightening caricatures and expensive animatronics. Contrary to his reputation today, thirty years ago McCarthy was little known, creating and starring in low-budget video performances simultaneously vomiting and eating raw sausage meat while smearing household sauces into his genitals.


    Paul McCarthy (


    This rags to riches story evidently never led to a reformation of his confrontational style – the disturbing sentiment was obviously still apparent in the early days – better still, the current exhibition withstands shocking allure, with McCarthy appearing literally in the flesh – nude, spray legged and exhibiting a flaccid penis, gilding his throne with a robust, aged physicality.


    ‘The King’ is an uncanny hyper-realistic cast of the artist of course, inertly gazing over the seated spectators sat upon church pews. A little tame I thought, half expecting the figure to animate, glow a shade of fluorescent and walk towards me like a animatronic possessed. Fear not, exposed genitalia are not the limits to McCarthey’s shock tactics – albeit a referential gesture for grander symbolism. The human body laid bare: McCarthy, fat and sagging – a success story on the margins of Hollywood’s altitude, seated below the toned physique of a model – a product of the self-fulfilling machine of the industry. It’s a self-parody, a mockery of the pretensions of art through heroic, cinematic proportions. Here we have an anti-hero, a vulnerable, butt naked and rather undignified man as the figurehead of this installation. Is he receiving the masses, or do we look on in condemnation?


    The show’s not over yet: wander to the basement rooms projecting two videos. During one film you will find McCarthy’s replica torso undergoing further humiliation: sawn, hacked and bent on the chopping board. The other, subliminally infecting your mind with sexually explicit cooperate logos and advertising.


    Politics and sexual deviance continue to the other sites with: ‘The Train’. Identical animatronic George Bush sculptures fornicating with piglets leave nothing to be desired at Saville Row. A laser stare from each sculpture penetrates you as the beastiality continues – it’s beginning to feel more like McCarthy territory. The copiousness of shock and debauchery suggests that he is thorough, ram- raiding many lawful boundaries in the name of art. My expectations are being fulfilled if not slightly burned out.


    I’m more enthused by ‘The Island’, a raised stage-set a-wash with political corruption, and celebrity effigies displaced with what could well be cast-offs from McCarthy’s studio. Our spectatorship has been taken into consideration here with four industrial ladders strategically placed in each corner. I’m relishing the blatant disregard for health and safety and clamber recklessly to their summit. Take advantage of each watch point, you’ll be rewarded with a fresh perspective upon the narrative, pinning together a linear thread after some scrutiny and physical activity. It’s a sculptor’s graveyard; ‘The Island’ is sprawling with wood and polystyrene piled high, cast body parts and empty boxes of cooperate take-away. I spot Angelina Jolie through a mesh fence juxtaposed with a feeding pen for some indigenous animal born amidst this chaos. It’s a visceral, carnivalesque piece where clay celebrity caricatures copulate with corporate branding, a vulgarity of a bygone Bush era – a time that not only the pigs are sore from.


    You can catch Paul McCarthy’s creepy creations at the Hauser and Wirth Gallery, London, until the 14Th January 2012.


    By Zoe-Lee Skelton

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