Paul McCarthy: Let ‘Em Eat Garbage

Paul McCarthy: Let ‘Em Eat Garbage

Paul McCarthy at Hauser & Wirth LA

In much of his work, Paul McCarthy explores juvenilia to an uncomfortably advanced degree, finding profane inspiration in all things  coprocentric and aesthetically offensive. But McCarthy’s current exhibition at the Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles gallery appears to eschew those fonts of creativity, concentrating instead on Disney’s vintage reimagining of the Grimm’s fairy tale character Snow White, who is as removed from procreative juices and shit as her name suggests. So, according to the Hauser & Wirth press release, instead of McCarthy’s usual scatological paeans to the “messier realities of human drives and desires,” massive freestanding black walnut sculptures of Snow White fill the gallery space. The largest piece WS, Bookends tops out at 36,000 pounds and resembles a pair of gigantic Japanese netsukes. But although the sculpture is impressive for its size, it projects a weird three-dimension digital sterility; machine carved from computer mapping, there’s little of McCarthy in these McCarthy sculptures. Still, utilizing “his staged process of producing ‘abstracts through merging’ to restructure reality,” McCarthy has produced some fascinating psychedelic abstractions of Snow White, the Prince, and the Seven Dwarfs. Its great if that’s all you want, because then you don’t have to buy the idea that these sculptures are a direct attack on Disney morality or “disrupt traditional notions of art and culture” in any way. After all, it’s been fifty years since Wally Wood inked his famous Disneyland Memorial Orgy, so exposing the American Nightmare by lampooning Disney is hardly late breaking news.

WS Bookends 451x335 Paul McCarthy: Let Em Eat Garbage

WS, Bookends, 144 x 120 x 175 in., Black walnut, 2013 Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo by Genevieve Hanson

But one needn’t look far for McCarthy’s usual grotesquerie; in fact, it’s right there on the gallery walls, in a series of monochromatic wall hangings called the Brown Rothkos. These foul works began as pieces of floor carpet “repurposed as a medium of expression”, then arranged to let residue aggregate on them from the creation of props for a much larger installation. That’s right, and apparently shit tinted glasses are also required to understand how McCarthy could elevate what is effectively studio garbage to the stature of a commercially viable finished piece. They are the fine art world’s diarrheic equivalent of a toilet left unflushed, its meaning only in its making. There’s no value to them other than being evidence of someone else’s excremental enterprise. It’s worse than the art world’s usual let-‘em-eat-cake mentality since all that’s left to consume is actual droppings.

Installation view 451x341 Paul McCarthy: Let Em Eat Garbage

Installation view, Photo by Anthony Ausgang

Which is fairly horrible in itself; but the biggest insult is that McCarthy attempts to bamboozle his audience with his aesthetic discharge, and instead of being in on the joke, this time the joke is on us and not Disney, family systems, or “mass media and its effects on the development of children.” Meanwhile, the reluctance of the other viewers in the room to make eye contact with these pieces was obvious, and even I preferred to look at the Brown Rothkos through the lens of my cell phone.

Rothko Carpet 19 451x601 Paul McCarthy: Let Em Eat Garbage

Rothko Carpet 19, 149 x 84 in., Carpet and mixed media, 2012, Photo by Anthony Ausgang

At a certain point an artist has to decide where their loyalty lies; its either with the Fine Art Mafia or the audiences in the galleries who are just there to take it all in. So maybe its time that McCarthy remembers he can only kick that fabled turd so many times before it sticks to his shoe. 


Paul McCarthy. WS Spinoffs, Wood Statues, Brown Rothkos. 1 July – 17 September 2017. Hauser & Wirth, 901 East 3rd Street, LA CA 90013