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Paul McCarthy: Life Cast / Hauser & Wirth New York 69th Street

Hauser & Wirth’s entire spring program in New York City is devoted to the artist Paul McCarthy. At Hauser & Wirth’s venue at 69th Street, the gallery presents Paul McCarthy: Life Cast, featuring platinum silicone life casts of the artist and Elyse Poppers, one of the key performers in his most recent projects Rebel Dabble Babble and WS. The exhibition runs until July 26, 2013.

Paul McCarthy: Life Cast / Hauser & Wirth New York 69th Street. Press preview, May 10, 2013. Video by Shimon Azulay.

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Excerpt from the press release:

‘Paul McCarthy: Life Cast’

Also opening to the public on 10 May at Hauser & Wirth’s townhouse on 69th Street, ‘Paul McCarthy: Life Cast’ (on view through 26 July) showcases highly developed themes and narratives coursing through and connecting different areas of McCarthy’s vast and complex practice. Here those themes are revealed through platinum silicone life casts – bravura replicas of the artist and Elyse Poppers, one of the key performers in his most recent projects ‘Rebel Dabble Babble’ and ‘WS’.

‘Horizontal’ (2013) is a haunting depiction of the artist in uncanny full-scale replica, naked and prone in the gallery’s skylit ground floor south room. ‘Horizontal’ is a recent ‘repetition-variation’ of the 2005 work ‘Paul Dreaming, Vertical, Horizontal’, in which the artist’s own body was molded standing upright. Defined by gravity’s pull, that earlier sculpture was half-clothed and subtly distorted, its belly and penis distended outward. While ‘Paul Dreaming’ elicits thoughts of death, it also suggests that the artist is very much alive and a bit of a bearded buffoon in socks and shirt, but no pants. ‘Horizontal’ presents an altogether different avatar and, in the artist’s words, ‘makes no bones about the fact this is someone dead, without the mask of a clown or the possibility of sleep and dreaming’. Cast with McCarthy in a prone position, this morgue-like caricature strikes a subversive note in which absurdity and pathos echo one another.

‘Horizontal’ was presaged by one of McCarthy’s earliest exhibited works, the hollow metal ‘Dead H’ (1968), also on view in ‘Paul McCarthy: Life Cast’. ‘Dead H’ – at first glance a Minimalist sculpture in the then-prevailing style – slyly mimics a dead body (and, coincidentally, a toppled twin of the first letter in Los Angeles’ famous Hollywood sign).

An ironic comment upon vanitas and the ambitions and fables of art and culture, McCarthy’s ‘Dead H’ is a fallen hero. Forty-five years later, the artist’s study of the body as a vehicle for liberation and exploitation continues full force. Works on view at 69th Street also include ‘Rubber Jacket Horizontal, Rubber H’, a poignant fragment from the life casting activities of the past year that captures a sunken and hollow portion of the artist’s own torso.

‘Paul McCarthy: Life Cast’ also presents four female figures of uncanny verisimilitude. All are life casts of Elyse Poppers achieved through a series of painstaking processes at the leading edge of special effects technology. ‘T.G. Awake’ (T.G. is an acronym for ‘That Girl’ and refers to another feminine icon, aspiring actress namesake of a hit 1960s situation comedy) is comprised of three life-sized casts of the actress in similar sitting positions, with her legs spread open to varying degrees and eyes cast in different directions. Together these static variations reference the magical effect by which a series of still images can be joined together to become film. ‘T.G. Awake’ found its origins in drawings that McCarthy made of his wife Karen in the 1960s and relates to the first White Snow pencil drawings of 2009. The sculpture ‘T.G. Asleep’ presents the same woman prone, her body curved and hands cupped, a counterpoint to the dead figure of ‘Horizontal’.

The exhibition also includes ‘That Girl’, a four-channel video installation based in the process by which ‘T.G. Awake’ and ‘T.G. Asleep’ were achieved. Capturing the molding process, the model’s live movement studies, and the documentation of these through deliberately positioned cameras, this work brings viewers into the action through which the sculptures on view were made. ‘Life casting liberates the literal through a kind of unifying monotone,’ McCarthy has said. ‘It creates a different representation of the original thing that lets me explore where reality and abstraction intersect’.

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