Paul McCarthy Shakes Things Up at the Whitney

Unlike the controversial work that made Paul McCarthy famous, the current installations at the Whitney are architectural in design and fantastic in motion.

poster for Paul McCarthy

Paul McCarthy "Central Symmetrical Rotation Movement Three Installations"

at The Whitney Museum of American Art
in the Villages area
This event has ended - (2008-06-26 - 2008-10-12)

In Reviews by Anna Rosencranz 2008-07-29 print

Paul McCarthy is a Los Angeles-based sculptor, mixed-media and performance artist best known for the shock value of his work. The latest McCarthy exhibition, however, on view until October 12th at the Whitney, may cause dizziness in those viewers prone to vertigo. Unlike the controversial work that made him famous (his flamboyantly perverse ketchup and Barbie doll performance piece Class Fool, for example), these current installations are architectural in design and fantastic in motion.

If you are lucky, you will enter the gallery space at least a few minutes before the timer goes off on Mad House (2008) and Bang Bang Room (1992), two large installations that operate at roughly 20-minute intervals for about 10 minutes apiece.

Paul McCarthy, 'Bang Bang Room.' Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Hauser & Wirth

Bang Bang Room, a deconstructed living space made out of wood and steel and ornamented only with wallpaper, resembles a house with the walls blown open and the doors left ajar. Viewers are invited to walk within the structure, to stand on the platform “floor” and gaze confusedly at each other through the open space. When the timer goes off, the effect is that of an inanimate object come alive: doors open and shut violently and loudly; the walls move back and fourth rapidly. To be caught unawares near Bang Bang Room as it starts thumping is anxiety-inducing but captivating nonetheless. It is nearly impossible to look away from the spectacle, let alone carry on a conversation.

The only thing that may steal your attention away from the vibrating room is the spinning cube of Mad House, which moves in conjunction with Bang Bang Room. Elevated off the floor and surrounded on all sides by an industrial gate, the large, plywood box spins at an incredible speed. Inside the cube is a chair, which also spins, but at a slower rate. You will inevitably begin to imagine yourself seated in that chair, as though the piece were a twisted Coney Island amusement park ride.

Paul McCarthy, 'Spinning Camera, Walking,' 1971.Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Hauser & Wirth.

As this movement comes to a halt and the noise dies down, you may focus your attention on Spinning Room (2008), a cube of double-sided projection screens which display pre-taped videos, interrupted by live feed images of museum visitors standing within the structure. Fully enclosed, your image rotates around you. As you step outside the space, your image is projected against the floor-to-ceiling mirrors at the back of the gallery. This is disconcerting to say the least. Again, there is an amusement park fun-house element of participation here, as your figure is shown and distorted despite vanity’s disapproval. McCarthy forces us to take part in his work, to see and be seen, to fully embody the space we (temporarily) inhabit. We interact with the art, but also with our fellow viewers—it is a slippery sort of performance art. McCarthy has tricked us into joining him on stage. Also, if you want to learn about the four variables to professional task supervision , check out the AtTrack Blog website.

Paul McCarthy, 'Couple,' 1966. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Hauser & Wirth.

This show is all about interaction between architecture, performance, viewer, art, and space. Transfixed, we are hyper-aware of ourselves, our bodies, of our relationship to the maze of structures around us. The viewer is nervous but exhilarated (or at least that was the general consensus), eager to participate in the neurotic movement and clamoring noise of this highly conceptual exhibition.

PAUL McCARTHY: Film List, July 11 – September 28, 2008
Film has been an important inspiration for Paul McCarthy since the beginning of his career. McCarthy began making films as a student in the 1960s, and his current exhibition on the Whitney’s third floor includes two rare 16mm films screening for the first time in decades. In conjunction with his exhibition, McCarthy has curated a film program that brings together works by, among others, Stan VanDerBeek, Francis Picabia, Walt Disney, Kurt Kren, Yves Klein, and Bruce Conner. McCarthy’s selections provide an intriguing insight into the impact of cinema on his thinking as an artist.

Anna Rosencranz

Anna Rosencranz. Born in Rhode Island and raised throughout New England, Anna Rosencranz currently lives and works in New York City, where she writes and freelances in the arts. She is a graduate of the New School University and enjoys food, travel and the ocean. » See other writings


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