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Paul McCarthy


by L. Brandon Krall
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Paul McCarthy is our anti-Disney, wrenching timeless folk figures away from the saccharine American visionary and returning them to the dark libidinal forests of their origins. In “The Dwarves, the Forests,” his current show in New York -- which closes on Saturday at Hauser & Wirth on East 69th Street -- McCarthy presents a series of heavy bronze sculptures that are by turns lecherous, horrific and just plain creepy. The “refined” world of Disneyana, McCarthy has said, is an “invention. . . a Shangri-La that is directly connected to a political agenda, a type of prison that you are seduced into visiting.”

“The Dwarves, the Forests” features six of Snow White’s seven dwarves, rendered in bronze so dark that it effaces the sculptures’ own detail. The monumental creatures are fitted with shocking phallic appendages that droop and distend from ears or eye sockets, and bulbous digits, eyeless faces and gaping orifices in sexualized figures are otherwise marked by visceral deconstruction, ravages, rapes, erosions and violations. No reparative impulse is at work here; rather, they seem to be victims of a gang of rampaging zombies.

At the entrance to the exhibition stands an imposing bronze tableau, White Snow Cake (2011), apparently based on a figurine that includes Snow White, several of her dwarf companions, a tree and other charmed beings, like a bunny and a squirrel. They stand on a slathered slab, an appropriately repellent base that would have Brancusi spinning in his grave. While Snow White, who holds a basket and brandishes a kind of wand, remains whole, the dwarves surrounding her melt and crumble into pieces under the destructive glow of her beauty.

Not all the sculptures are pitch black. Two maquettes, White Snow Loving Forest, Female (2011), and White Snow Dwarf Log, Male (2010-2011), are billed as “models for sets of future performances and films,” inspired by the desert landscape near the artist’s home. Playfully macabre, they are forest settings made of red clay and white plaster. One features a tunnel opening that leads into darkness, and a disembodied head of Snow White sitting in a clearing. The two maquettes raise the specter of Duchamp’s The Large Glass in posing male and female fields of action arrayed across from each other.

The final work in the show, and its highlight, is White Snow and Dopey, Wood (2011), a ten-foot-tall sculpture in black walnut made from a clay model using a digital fabrication process. It is astonishingly lovely as a sculpture. But what began as an emblem of song -- no doubt a figurine of Snow White, a bluebird and a dwarf (is that Dopey?) -- has been transformed into one figure wailing at the heavens with another crouched grimacing at her feet. McCarthy effects a metamorphosis -- and perhaps, like all the works in the show, it’s over the top, and not to be taken seriously -- that transforms innocence and grace into a specter of fear, pain and formlessness.

“Paul McCarthy: The Dwarves, The Forests,” Nov. 7-Dec. 17, 2011, at Hauser & Wirth New York, 32 East 69th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021.

L. BRANDON KRALL is a New York-based writer and critic.