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b. 1945, United States

Paul McCarthy Biography

From his early performances and paintings involving sauce to his later, irreverent sculptures and inflatable works, Los Angeles-based artist Paul McCarthy explores contemporary popular culture.

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Life

Paul McCarthy holds a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute (1969) and an MFA from the University of Southern California (1973). Although he wanted to be a painter, McCarthy could not afford to buy oil paint; the artist turned instead to using runny sauce as 'paint' in performance pieces. Early performances, documented as videos, show him covering his body in ketchup and mustard while seated on a table (Heinz Ketchup (1974)) or painting a wall with sauce (Whipping the Wall with Paint (1975)). Using various foodstuffs, which also included mayonnaise and chocolate, McCarthy used their colour and viscosity to evoke bodily fluids.

Artworks

Paul McCarthy began to receive critical attention in the 1990s, when an interest in body art and the themes of death, disease, and pathology rediscovered the corporeality of his works. During this decade, McCarthy expanded his practice to examine modern culture, from popular children's icons to the production of film.

Heidi (1992), an hour-long film produced with Mike Kelley, saw the artists parody scenes from Joanna Spyri's 1881 novel Heidi, in which a young girl from the Swiss Alps becomes a hired companion to an older girl who cannot walk. With the use of puppets and exaggerated prosthetic props, McCarthy and Kelly undermined the traditional grammar of film.

Tomato Head (1994) similarly borrows from recognisable characters, namely the children's toy Mr. Potato Head. McCarthy's life-size sculpture is, however, far from the lovable and approachable original character, with googly eyes and human ears on a tomato. Perhaps most disturbingly of all, Tomato Head has the half-dressed body of a grown man, with a large toy block dangling between his legs.

Snow White

Snow White, the fairy tale character perhaps now better known as Disney's animated princess, has been a recurrent subject of Paul McCarthy's work. In Nine Dwarves, his solo exhibition at Seoul's Kukje Gallery in 2012, the artist implied her presence through sculptures only of the dwarves. Five years later, the solo show Paul McCarthy: Cut Up and Silicone, Female Idol, WS at the same gallery included sculptures made by combining various figurines of Snow White into one.

Inflatable Sculptures

In the past decades, Paul McCarthy has brought large-scale sculptures with often irreverent and sexualised implications to public spaces. Among them is the enormous inflatable Tree (2014), installed in Paris' Place Vendôme, which in fact recalls a butt plug more than it does a tree. The hugely controversial work resulted in an assault on the artist during an interview and vandalisation to the sculpture, as well as viral attention on the Internet.

In spite of its infamy, Tree was not McCarthy's first use of butt plugs in public. Santa Claus, erected in Rotterdam in 2001, featured a gnome-like Santa Claus holding up a butt plug. The work was later installed as an inflatable sculpture in Utrecht in 2009.

In 2021, McCarthy collaborated with The Skater Room to transfer the image of Tree onto a triptych of skateboards as part of Highsnobiety's Not in Paris 3.

Exhibitions

Selected solo exhibitions include Paul McCarthy: A&E Sessions — Drawing and Painting, Hauser & Wirth, New York (2021); Alpine Stories and other Dystopias, Tarmak 22, Gstaad, Switzerland (2020); Paul McCarthy: Head Space, Drawings 1963—2019, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2020); Mixed Bag, Xavier Hufkens, Brussels (2019); Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley: Heidi, Midlife Crisis Trauma Center and Negative Media-Engram Abreaction Release Zone 1992, Deitch Projects, New York (2017); Cut Up and Silicone, Female Idol, WS, Kukje Gallery, Seoul (2017); Chocolate Factory, Monnaie de Paris (2014); and Paul McCarthy: The Box, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2012).

Selected group exhibitions include NOT I: Throwing Voices (1500BCE—2020CE), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2021); Boijmans ahoy drive-thru museum, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2020); (SELF) PORTRAITS, Parkett, Zurich (2020); Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300—Now), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2018); The Everywhere Studio, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2017); Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney's Collection, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016); and Performing for the Camera, Tate Modern, London (2016).

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021

Paul McCarthy
featured artworks

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Duck Daisy Table Red by Paul McCarthy contemporary artwork sculpture
Paul McCarthy Duck Daisy Table Red, 2024 Silicone
137.2 x 121.9 x 121.9 cm
Xavier Hufkens Request Price & Availability
Untitled by Paul McCarthy contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Paul McCarthy Untitled, 1992 Tusche auf Papier
102 x 72.5 cm
Galerie Krinzinger Request Price & Availability
DD #2 Pale Blue by Paul McCarthy contemporary artwork sculpture
Paul McCarthy DD #2 Pale Blue, 2020–2023 Silicone
63.5 x 55.9 x 55.9 cm
Hauser & Wirth Request Price & Availability
cisuM fo dnuoS ehT / The Sound of Music (video still) by Paul McCarthy contemporary artwork moving image
Paul McCarthy cisuM fo dnuoS ehT / The Sound of Music (video still), 2001/2008 Video on DVD and Digi-Beta submaster (1 DVD, 1 DVCam NTSC)
Hauser & Wirth Request Price & Availability
WS, White Snow Flower Girl #2 by Paul McCarthy contemporary artwork sculpture
Paul McCarthy WS, White Snow Flower Girl #2, 2016 Black walnut
91.4 x 61 x 45.7 cm
Hauser & Wirth Request Price & Availability
Dick Eye by Paul McCarthy contemporary artwork painting
Paul McCarthy Dick Eye, 2009/2017 Acrylic polyurethane on Matrix G
57 x 48 x 42 cm
Xavier Hufkens Request Price & Availability
SC Western White River by Paul McCarthy contemporary artwork sculpture
Paul McCarthy SC Western White River, 2014–2017 Silicone
140 x 68.5 x 97 cm
Hauser & Wirth Request Price & Availability
A&E EVE ADOLF MOTHER EATACHITT, Tehachapi by Paul McCarthy contemporary artwork painting
Paul McCarthy A&E EVE ADOLF MOTHER EATACHITT, Tehachapi, 2019 Acrylic paint on panel
243.8 x 182.9 x 4.4 cm
Hauser & Wirth Request Price & Availability
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Paul McCarthy
recent exhibitions

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Represented by these
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Hauser & Wirth contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong
Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris +7
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