December 12, 2007 - S.M.A.K. - Paul McCarthy
December 12, 2007

Paul McCarthy

Paul McCarthy
Head Shop/Shop Head. Works 1966-2006

13.10.2007… 17.02.2008

Municipal Museum for Contemporary Art
9000 Ghent
P +32 (0)9 221 17 03
museum.smak [​at​]

Paul McCarthy, born in 1945 in Salt Lake City, USA, continues to impress us with his work. Indeed his work has influenced a whole generation of artists such as Cindy Sherman, Jason Rhoades, Mike Kelly and
Jonathan Meese.

A confrontation with McCarthy’s work is an unforgettable experience. His visual idiom is overwhelming, insightful, repulsive, even frightening; the action is violent, chaotic and often frankly burlesque.

McCarthy’s apparently chaotic scenes are not the product of a madman or the catharsis of a tormented mind. Indeed, the aim of his oeuvre is to confront us with cultural and social traumas, the dark side of The American Dream and Western consumer society. Moreover, it emphatically appeals to our repressed fears and desires, which makes it even more confrontational. McCarthy says ‘You may understand my actions as vented culture. You may understand my action as vented fear’.

McCarthy began studying art in 1966. The dominant art movements at the time were Abstract Expressionism (which had already had its heyday), minimal art, pop art, conceptual art and experimental film, and we see their influence in his work. McCarthy integrates them as parallel forms of artistic expression and therefore does not evolve from painting to performance and on to sculpture. He set up the performances as installations and transformed the props he used in them into sculptures. He saw painting as an action rather than an object. In this he proved himself to be a successor of Jackson Pollock. From pop art he derived the use of products and the visual idiom of American consumer society. Especially ketchup, which has more or less become
his trademark.

Paul McCarthy began his career as a performance artist. The actions were small-scale with a focus on the human body, and performed only for a handful of people. In the eighties and nineties his performances became more complex. He stopped performing them live and only filmed them. The sets became larger and McCarthy began to use actors and professional film crews.

In addition to his performance and video work, McCarthy has continued to create sculptures and installation throughout his career. They are often based on his videos and performances.

Through the many recurring themes one could regard his body of work as one large work which is constantly involved in a process of transformation.

The Head Shop/Shop Head retrospective exhibition (the curator is Magnus af Petersens), which is being held in association with Moderna Museet in Stockholm and ARoS in Aarhus, is the first time a representative selection of his work, produced from 1966 to 2006, has been exhibited in Europe. McCarthy has created new work, The Bush Pieces, especially for the exhibition which is held in S.M.A.K.

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