‘Paul McCarthy and Damon McCarthy: Rebel Dabble Babble’
On 20 June, Hauser & Wirth’s 18th street space will re-open with the third of the gallery’s spring 2013 exhibitions: ‘Rebel Dabble Babble’ is a collaboration between Paul McCarthy and his son Damon McCarthy. On view through 26 July, ‘Rebel Dabble Babble’ is a large and complex installation and video projection work originally inspired by both Nicholas Ray’s 1955 classic Hollywood film ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ and the furious rumors that swirled around the off-set relationships between its director and his stars James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. This densely layered opus confronts definitions of power and role-playing, and expands far beyond the ’50s movie and related legends. Ultimately, ‘Rebel Dabble Babble’ is a meditation upon the archetypes and Oedipal tensions that define family dynamics as they have been played out in private homes, in the evolution of art history, and in the role of the entertainment industry in shaping our expectations and self-images.
At 18th Street, visitors will discover the gallery dimly lit and transformed into a hullabaloo of clanging and clamor, yelling and coital grunting. This barrage of sound envelops two large stage sets installed in the soaring space. One of these is a full-scale two-story house constructed by the McCarthys as a stand-in for Nicholas Ray’s now infamous Bungalow 2 at the Chateau Marmont. For James Dean and the 16-year old Wood, both of whom hailed from unhappy families, Ray’s cottage became a surrogate household with the director as its unconventional patriarch. Rumors abound of quasi-incestuous affairs between Ray and his actors, of swimming pool orgies and champagne bathtub freak-outs. It is these scenarios that are the basis for ‘Rebel Dabble Babble’. On the back of the two-story wooden house, a replica of the Hollywood sign is mounted – upside down. The second stage set is a replica of the living room staircase in the home of Jim Stark, the central character played by James Dean in the original ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ and by James Franco (who also plays Dean) in ‘Rebel Dabble Babble’.This set is turned on its side, with props and the residue of filming strewn exactly where they were left at the end of shooting.
Video projections of scenes are presented on and around these sets. In those projections, Paul McCarthy and his actors play hybrids of both Nick Ray’s cinematic characters and the actors who performed as those characters, and segue into universal familial roles – father, mother, daughter, and son. Thus McCarthy plays both Nick Ray and the Father of Jim Stark, as well as the archetype of Father; James Franco is both Jim and James Dean; Elyse Poppers is Judy and the actress who portrayed her, Natalie Wood, as well as the embodiment of Daughter. Jay Yi appears as both Plato and Sal Mineo, the actor who played Plato in the original movie. And Suzan Averitt performs as the Mothers of both Jim Stark and Natalie Wood. With its mind-bending series of doubles, binaries, and inversions, ‘Rebel Dabble Babble’ presents perversions of interchangeable roles and fetish relationships. In the process, it investigates parallel icons in the history of art – from Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ to Vito Acconci’s infamous performances – and plays with the psychology of the family.
‘Rebel Dabble Babble’ reflects an important shift in Paul McCarthy’s engagement with the fantastical tropes of such bodies of work as White Snow, Pirates and Pinocchio, toward more modern and thoroughly American 20th century pop culture mythologies. As with the two sculpture exhibitions presented by Hauser & Wirth New York this spring, this ambitious and challenging tour de force delves deeper into the structures by which fiction successfully presents itself as reality.