Paul McCarthy: White Snow

Paul McCarthy, 'White Snow', 2013 (image: Joshua White)

Paul McCarthy, ‘White Snow’, 2013 (image: Joshua White)

Films such as Blue Velvet and American Beauty suggest that if we scrutinize the world more closely, probing into its darker recesses, we’ll find a reality hidden from public view, where every violent, sadistic, and transgressive impulse runs rampant. The white picket fences, manicured front lawns and thorn-trimmed rose bushes are simply fronts for our nefarious desires. In Paul McCarthy’s world, this trope is taken further. Everything in this world – reality, fantasy, thoughts, actions, good, and evil – is one and the same. He is the art world’s foremost materialist, the leveler of perceived boundaries. Every component of his work is thrust forward into one sharp relief; sadism, Disney, torture, ketchup, excess, baking, and mutilation. McCarthy’s belief is that when cross-examined in particular ways, all these elements are equatable. Continue reading

Transgression for transgression’s sake?

Art controversies

From left to right: A student at ACAD who killed a chicken as part of an art project. A work by Carl Michael von Hausswolff purportedly made from cremated material stolen from the Majdanek concentration camp. One of Charles Krafft’s nazi inspired porcelain works.

One of the enduring myths of contemporary art is that it ought to push boundaries, titillate, and shock.  Whether left, right, or center, most of the artworld subscribes to this belief, and for the most part, I do too. It’s an expectation set by the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, one that seems timorous to leave unfulfilled. We’ve become desensitized to art that shocks, precisely because it has become expected. To shock has become banal. Pornographic imagery? Bodily fluids? Whatever. And yet, as much as we’d like to imagine that all boundaries have been crossed, they haven’t. When art encroaches upon ethical issues, sparks fly.  Continue reading

1945-1998 by Isao Hashimoto

Isao Hashimoto, '1945-1998' (2003)

A few weeks ago, I discovered a little known, and very disturbing fact. During a botched training exercise in 1958, the U.S. Air force lost a Mark 15 nuclear bomb off the coast of Georgia. To this day, the bomb remains buried off the U.S. coast somewhere near the shores of Tybee Island. NPR broadcasted a fascinating segment about the incident, which you can hear here. The threat posed by the bomb is disputed. It has been argued that attempting a recovery could inadvertently set off the device.  Continue reading

Frieze NYC 2013

Paul McCarthy's 'Balloon Dog' (2013) by the north entrance of Frieze New York (image: John Berens/ Frieze)

Paul McCarthy’s ‘Balloon Dog’ (2013) by the north entrance of Frieze New York (image: John Berens/ Frieze)

Art fair coverage, it’s almost always the same. The collective malaise of journalists and bloggers is palpable. This year, Blouinartinfo.com is offering an iPad mini to whoever can “contribute their craziest, most experimental ideas for covering an art fair”. Initially, fair malaise is countered with hype – and everyone swallows it up. It begins with the mad scramble for free fair tickets as the pressure and expectation mounts on art worlders to go. As the hype dies down, one accepts that all the excitement is over a glorified shopping mall. There’s the spectacle of fashionistas squinting at artworks, and the rich men who ogle at them from behind. Then there is the banal analysis that follows. What were the estimated sale figures, who did well, who didn’t, which gallerists dropped out and why? Almost all of this analysis is useless because it is purely speculative.  Continue reading

Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck

“We’re one family, and all the waters in the world are our global bathtub”. A simple, but nonetheless sweet concept for an artwork. Florentijn Hofman’s giant rubber duck reminded me of the Friendly Floatees incident of 1991, the subject of Donovan Hohn’s book, Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of them.

www.florentijnhofman.nl