Dripping acrylics cover monumental canvases that are complemented by an array of jarring graphic oilstick works on paper, again juxtaposed by disheveled household objects in McCarthy’s ‘A & E Sessions at Hauser & Wirth Chelsea. The body of work captures an existential moment in time and portrays, sans subtlety, a sense that humanity is on the edges of a psychological breakdown.

Focusing on raw intimacy and the emotional experience of countless hours spent at home in a quotidian setting, McCartney captures a sense of loss of intimacy and a breakdown of human respect in almost all regards. The majority of the show is sexually graphic and relentless in its grotesque nature. The imagery is unusually explicit, while capturing both an emphasis on the momentary pleasure, as well as a sense of self loathing.

Paul McCarthy: A&E, Cat Tower (Santa Anita) 2019 Acrylic paint, collaged paper, and cat tree on canvas panel

In works such as Cat Tower (Santa Anita), the double entendres of the sex kitten-like figure bending over in a sexual pose as well as the installation view of a perpendicularly intersecting feline play tower create a sense of the temporal and experiential. The essence of this work, as well as the other monumentals in the exhibition’s main hall captures both revelry in the pleasures, as well serving as the source of an aggregating sense of humanity’s lack of worth throughout the rest of the show.

Paul McCarthy A&E, Pink Love Story (Santa Anita) 2020Acrylic and paint brush on canvas panel

In Pink Love Story (Santa Anita), large swaths of canvas are treated with raw strokes, explicit text and juxtaposed by wave-like strokes that convey a sense of a bedsheet itself, while a large phallic objects takes over the entire left side of the work. The overall effect is that of a very demoralized sexual experience, conjuring a sense of forced prostitution or adulterous sex.

The premise of the show, according to McCarthy himself, is capturing the ‘vile substance’ of the sexual relationship between Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler. The exhibition is laden with Nazi references, swastikas and crude phraseology:

I EAT SHIT

TIT CUM PIG

KILL YOURSELF

EVA FUCKS ADOLF IN HER MOUTH

In capturing such sexual subject matter, the works make a secondary commentary on the concept of Original Sin, Adam and Eve; another of the shows various double entendres. This subjective despecification sheds light on the difficult truth that the works also reflect the state of the mind of the artist himself, rather than just a narrative. The artworks were created in two “marathon” sessions, according to the artist, dating from 2019 to March 2020--even the artist’s word choice of ‘marathons’ of creation link back to the subject matter itself; the connotations of most certainly inspire images of amorous activity.

The paintings are a departure from McCarthy’s recent abstract and geometric aesthetic, for which he is best known, however link back to a time in the artist’s early career (1970-80’s) that the artist was much more gestural. Some of his works from this time were also impression-based, the artworks keeping a record of a gesture or an impression, rather than the action of the brush itself. Similar to Robert Rauschenberg’s Automobile Tire Print (1953), McCarthy’s works from this period, such as Penis Painting Red & Black, appear to have been created by some unmentionable orifice, rather than a paintbrush or any similar artistic object. Playful in nature, these artworks create a thread to the pieces in A & E; however, the more recent body is laden with self loathing and sexual aggression.

Paul McCarthy, “Penis Painting Red” and “Penis Painting Black,” 1980, acrylic on paper.(Christopher Knight/Los Angeles Times)
Robert Rauschenberg, Automobile Tire Print, (1953)

The oilstick on paper works delve deeper into raw gestural sex and base materiality; taking it even further to allude to the artists cathartic process by including ART FORUM covers and magazine tears of beautiful women. Many of the works in this group are covered in apparent fecal matter, both spread across the paperboard and featured twisted in baggies and tacked to depraved human figures and mickey mouse like forms performing sexual acts.

A&E, EVADOOLF EVA (Santa Anita) 2020 Charcoal, pastel, peanut butter and collage on paper.

Jumbles of wires and home goods are installed sculpturally in the exhibition, strengthening the exhibition’s ability to transport the viewers to the time and place in which the works were created.

Paul McCarthy’s mammoth exhibition at Hauser & Wirth’s Chelsea space creates a strong commentary on the sense of a breakdown in intimate relationships in present times; the works reflect a lack of emotional boundaries and demonized sexual experiences in today’s human culture. The show itself makes a major statement both in the art world and the artist’s career, displaying a riotous and pointed critique against modern principles, while linking them back to a prior cultural narrative from which society also emerged.

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