Magazine article Artforum International

I Had a Strange Reaction

Magazine article Artforum International

I Had a Strange Reaction

Article excerpt

I HAD A STRANGE REACTION to Paul McCarthy's biggest work yet, WS, 2013, which occupied the entire main-floor space at the Park Avenue Armory in New York this summer past. It was, "Get me out of here!"

I could easily avert my eyes from the giant, grotesque antiporn film playing on the west and east walls, but I couldn't block out the disturbing and intentionally too-loud sound track that set my tinnitus abuzz. I say antiporn because, in America, pornography means appealing to prurient interests (in the lingo of the court), and for most of us McCarthy's wild party is an excitement prophylactic. It is suggestive only in suggesting that people who are naked in the same room must be up to something truly awful. His tableaux of unattractive people doing repulsive things demonstrate the fundamental difference between obscenity and pornography.

But WS wasn't about the film. Nothing much happens in its crapulous and unsightly orgy. It is a plotless horror flick that substitutes queasiness for terror, all chocolate and ketchup--not shit and blood--and functions as toxic wallpaper, repelling one into the installation. Between the filmic bookends lay two houses with a forest between them. It was a forest with a certain magic, resembling what the woodlands of Pandora in Avatar might become after a few centuries of toxic mutation--a sort of Thorazine version of enchanted.

If the installation had been the forest alone, I would have been charmed; but the forest was hemmed in by a house, decorated in middle-American middle-class style, then ravaged with bottles, butts, and bodily fluids, as if a party had gone berserk. Visitors looked in on the fetid scene of a fete gone wrong, maybe involving frat and sorority houses and a satanist motorcycle gang. It was too much, yet not enough. It wasn't "Oh my God, yes!" but "Been there, done that." The assistants must have had fun installing.

I loathe quoting "sound and fury signifying nothing," but can think of nothing more apt. Although McCarthy is hailed as a contemporary Jonathan Swift or Hieronymus Bosch, in fact he is no great narrator or imaginer. McCarthy's works have as much story as a middle finger. Far more than Seinfeld, they are about nothing. The determinedly perverse rehash of near-ancient idylls comes off as a sort of last-ditch fight against what Cialis ads call "ED." Snow White, Caribbean pirates, Pinocchio, and Santa seem to have lost relevance as a demonology, no matter how much McCarthy shits on them. …

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