Paul McCarthy’s "Pig Island" at Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan

Filipa Ramos

June 19, 2010
Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan
May 20–July 4, 2010

Solitude, abandon, restlessness, vulnerability: feelings a visitor might not expect to experience at the Palazzo Citterio. The refined 18th century rococo façade is at home in the elegant Brera district of Milan, but despite its chic external architecture, this sober face hides the perfect setting for Paul McCarthy’s delirious “Pig Island.” This exhibition displays iconic works from the Los Angeles artist together with new pieces, resulting in a complex installation that is a single, coherent articulation of McCarthy’s rhetoric and multifarious forms.

The Palazzo’s first room contains a crumbled figure of George Bush sodomizing a pig’s carcass amidst an endless array of (clearly allegorical) detritus—this rosy mass resembles the leftovers of a huge wedding cake. Static (Pink) (2004-2009), is a monument to an expired struggle: while that specific war is over, as well as the ideology it resisted, what remains is the decadent mourning of art’s impotency. Next to Static (Pink), in a dim, soiled, humid corner, an old man with no pants sleeps on a precariously small cot. It is clearly a portrait of the artist, so realistic that you have to get very near to it to confirm whether it is breathing. The closer you get, the more miserable you feel. It is so doleful that you want to cry, and then the agony becomes almost unbearable once you understand that Dreaming, 2005, has a proleptic function: to warn that you are about to enter McCarthy’s phantasmagorical space.

Dreaming is the first of a numbers of works in which it is possible to identify many of McCarthy’s artistic influences—the critique of Minimalism, popular culture, hyperrealism and Actionism are all here—filtered through B-side East Coast cinematic imagery. At the same time, the exhibition is developed in such a way that each room is connected to the following through subtle trace overlaps, such as sounds from the lower floor echoing onto ground level; a fraction of a projection that slides into an adjacent room; a window that opens onto the courtyard… everything is linked, like in a dream, where there is no established logic between time and space.

You enter this feast of grotesque hallucinations as soon as you descend the stairs, which become darker and darker, as the muffled yells you just barely heard become louder and stronger. Suddenly you find yourself inside Pirate Party, 2005, and Houseboat Party (2005), two large multi-channel video installations in which Disney-like dwarfs behave like freebooters in an orgiastic porn-splatter film.

While these cries and groaning sounds inevitably invade the following space, the opposite exchange also happens, as the scent of tomatoes precedes the sculpture Ketchup Sandwich (1970). The ensuing dialogue with art history is also unavoidable. Hans Haacke’s Condensation Cube (1963-65), embodies certain artistic practices of the second half of the 20th century by questioning closed systems, with a binomial logic between natural/artificial and inside/outside while singing an ode to time, randomness, and event. Here, McCarthy’s own glass cube is cut into thin layers and covered with condiment as parody, a sarcastic poetic play on Minimalism, in which the perfect cube is thinly sliced and made into a popular Atomic Era cheap meal: the ketchup sandwich. It is as if the artist overturned a symbol of Minimalist practice into a monument to vulgarity.

Finally, from a balcony, a bird’s-eye view of the show’s eponymous sculpture, Pig Island (2003-2010), celebrates the climax of the nightmare this ship of fools took us on. This island of aborted, monstrous and failed experiments is nothing but the artist’s very own world, as this gigantic installation is his studio—with all the left materials and abandoned projects displayed in its triumphant messiness, along with remains of old works and with previously exhibited pieces. The artist’s work place, so lucidly sublimated by Bruce Nauman—from Mapping the Studio (Fat Chance, John Cage) (2005), to his early Mystic Truths (1967),—is simultaneously repressed and uncannily expressed by McCarthy, finding in this urban grotto the perfect set for its rhetoric of repulsive beings and gestures.

Leaving the Pig Island behind, you finally reach the external courtyard, and a huge hot air balloon concludes the incubus with a key to McCarthy’s oeuvre: this monumental bottle of ketchup is both a bastion of white-trash living, and the tool for the artist’s continuous mise-en-scène of the popular, gross imaginary.

Sexuality & Eroticism, Sculpture
Pop Culture, Minimalism & Post-Minimalism, Video Art

Filipa Ramos is a writer and curator. Her exhibition “Songs for the Changing Seasons,” co-curated with Lucia Pietroiusti, is part of the 1. Vienna Climate Biennale (Spring 2024). She is curating “Bestiari,” the Catalan representation for the 60th Venice Biennale, featuring artist Carlos Casas.

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June 19, 2010

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