Schooled for Scandal

By Mccarthy, Paul | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Schooled for Scandal


Mccarthy, Paul, Artforum International


PURVEYOR OF SCANDAL-FOR-SCANDAL'S-SAKE OR SCREAM THERAPIST PURGING THE PATIENT? MOST OF US DON'T KNOW PAUL MCCARTHY WELL ENQUAH TO SAY: THE WEST COAST PERFORMANCE LEGEND HAS MANAGED TO ELUDE THE RETROSPECE RADAR IN AMERICA. THE THAT CHANGES THIS MONTH, AS A THREE-DECADE SURVEY OF MCCARTHY'S WORK, ORGANIZED BY THE NEW MUSEUM OF ON CONTEMPORARY ART IN NEW YORK, OPENS IN LOS AGGELES AT THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART. ON THE OCCASION, TOM HOLERT EXAMINES A UNIQUELY SPLIT ARTISTIC PERSONALITY.

Shortly before his 1994 book Extension du domaine de la lutte (published in America under the perhaps felicitous title Whatever) earned him a reputation in cultural circles in France as "scandalous," Michel Houellebecq embarked on a lecture tour of French art schools, addressing the relationship between quality and talent, as well as sexual failure. While in Avignon, he happened to witness a video in which an artist stuck his penis through a hole in a sheet of plywood and, with a piece of twine, moved it around like a marionette. Houellebecq's reaction: "It made me very uncomfortable. The atmosphere of decay, of tragic failure attached to today's art ultimately gets stuck in your throat."

Curiously, the view on an artist's preoccupation with his own penis did not shock the writer; it depressed him. What he saw made him sad, he wrote in the Paris magazine Les Inrockuptibles, because of its "almost intolerable precision." Far from sensing an art scandal, Houellebecq commented on these images of sado-masturbatory experiment with an abject memento mori: "I dreamed of trash bags welling up with coffee filters, fruit and vegetable rinds, meat with gravy. I thought of art as the act of skinning, and of pieces of flesh clinging to the skin."

Like Houellebecq's unfortunate performer, Paul McCarthy's list of ingredients includes a "member," "plywood," "a hole," and an "atmosphere [...] of tragic failure." He too occupies himself intensively and repeatedly with his penis. In addition, he has made a show of his anus (e.g., Painter, and stuck his head into a wail(Plaster Your Head and One Arm into a Wall, 1973). "I perform on myself"--so read the notes to the 1974 performance Meat Cake, in which McCarthy sat on a table, his head deformed by adhesive tape and covered with butter--"[and] include my dick working carefully with it."

In this grotesquerie, the body of the artist (which seems to mutate into a body without organs, or one with too many) is both prop and stage. Crucial expressive operations are carried out by way of liquids, pieces of clothing, furniture, dolls, masks, odors, and noises. The whimpering, mumbling, wailing, and wheezing turn the performer into a prisoner of a world with too many authors (or perhaps none at all). Any attempt by the various protagonists to escape this polymorphous environment only entangles them even further in its grip. The line between autonomy, authorship, and autism dissolves; ostensibly unleashed, viscous masses (ketchup, mayonnaise, Vaseline, chocolate) and low-culture references (B movies, porno flicks, canceled soap operas, pop psychology, and abandoned amusement parks) are put into circulation. They contaminate each other literally and semiotically. Remnants of the aimless play and desultory fights between masked performer, body parts, and stand-ins for bodily fluids are observed amid th e ruins of an abandoned architecture haunted by the ghosts of TV shows past.

Since the late '60s, Paul McCarthy has redirected the course of his production again and again: from conceptually inspired body-art performances to mechanical-motorized sculptures to ever more lavish multimedia video installations. Regardless of the approach, however, he has dedicated himself to the construction of atmospheres and spaces in which he pursues the constructive devaluation of cultural hierarchies. The claustrophobic character of these architectonic and performative environments can be traced back in McCarthy's case to the fact that nothing stands outside mediated representations and social constructions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Schooled for Scandal
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.