Paul McCarthy

ColinHumphrey:, culture, exhibition, london, hauser and wirth, saville row, paul mccarthy: the king the island the train the house the ship, 2012ColinHumphrey:, culture, exhibition, london, hauser and wirth, saville row, paul mccarthy: the king the island the train the house the ship, 2012

Hauser Wirth:Free, 16 November 2011 – 14 January 2012

The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship

Detritus, chaos and prurience appear chief amongst the visual senders used by Paul McCarthy where any attempt at subtlety was lowered by the over arching sense of largesse. The strong emphasis on iconoclasm and morass is what makes Paul McCarthy Paul McCarthy. Perhaps scale alone was the most impressive ploy from a show which undeniably begged for attention. The work is compelling but probably for all the wrong reasons however does this make it bad?

Antipathy towards good

Regular leitmotifs for Paul McCarthy have been that of hybrid-humans, bestiality, taboo sexual practices and the extrapolation of something benign into something tawdry, lurid and vile. For example in Pirates of the Caribbean, children’s characters embark on an orgy of simulated sex and other obscenities. What is the point of this, and does it really have any credibility, the method is shamefully simple and requires little or no cerebral work of thought to execute. By this token, is shock value alone that which has made Paul McCarthy? The answer is probably a bit of yes and no.


By now it must be understood that McCarthy’s work does usher in a collective call to indecency and the malapropos, however it must be reckoned that somewhere beneath the currents of the seemingly inexhaustible plays of anti-this or anti-that or shock-this/shock-that is the placebo like effect of humor tacitly present in the art which has no inherent ideals, messages or (maybe even) purpose other than to just be and exist. The artist would lead you to believe this is serious on some level and perhaps it is, perhaps one has to make that decision individually?

What’s the message?

The main idea present in the piece is that of a society that has lost its way amid a perpetual commercialism and over indulgence and decadent preoccupation with itself. Think ‘Idiocracy’ 2006 and you’ll be along the right lines. The sculptural piece at St James Park typified this, it featured a top of a plinth child like characters. The representation here was to depict the child like characters as a signifier for man or humanity as a whole. The fact that the no-one is in control of the vessel which appeared to have no destination only expounds the message further.

To go or not to go

The show in spite of its attempts to revile and put people off can often have the converse affect. The exhibition certainly was a spectacle and as to its quality, this would have to be inferred individually. Note children are not allowed to enter certain parts of this exhibition.


A large scale show taking place across different sites employing sculpture, kinetic sculpture, installation and video.


written by: Colin Humphrey

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