You put the kids to bed, and you look around the room. What you see is either a battlefield or a junkyard. Toy sets are broken up, G.I Joe is consorting with Barbie, other action figures are dead, and you wince as you stomp on another Lego piece.
Not quite as chaotic, but much more fun is Paul McCarthy’s show, which fills up Hauser & Wirth’s vast space on West 18th Street in New York. You first meet up with a phalanx of ten bronze sculptures—Disney’s seven dwarfs, with two Dopeys and two Sleepys. They look as if someone—McCarthy, let’s say—had gone at them with a sledgehammer. Their faces are smashed, bits and pieces are scattered at their feet, and tubs and boxes filled with more detritus surround them.
Facing off against them are another nine battered dwarfs, clearly parodies of the Chinese emperor’s famous terracotta warriors, along with a pallet of “dwarf parts.” These are made of clay and are therefore susceptible to further modification or artistic child’s play.
Then comes a huge “Pirates of the Caribbean” riff, complete with three pirates, one of them sporting a green dress. The huge assemblage, arrayed on a worktable, is the child’s version of the sparagmos in Greek tragedy—a scattering of members, with monumental heads, torsos, tools, legs, and assorted junk arrayed at its base. Another semi-dismembered pirate, titled Amputation (AMP), Blue (2013–16), sits at a table just beyond. He’s made of blue fiberglass, electric but immobile.
The final two pieces, also grouped on worktables, constitute a mock homage to Paula Jones—she of political scandal past. Leering caricaturesque human heads attached to human and pig bodies are surrounded by junk and leftovers. Like the dwarves, they embody the grotesque by being funny and horrifying at the same time.
This absolutely brilliant show derives from the detritus of childhood memories mixed with politics. Both streams converge in the landscape of McCarthy’s fertile imagination represented here by the worktables, where his aesthetic sense isolates a central image and sets it aside, all the while retaining what is unnecessary (the junk). And despite the apparent disorder, there is a progression implicit in the display of so many pieces. We move from silicone, wood, fiberglass, and clay to bronze, the sacred alloy of traditional sculpture.
McCarthy’s dwarfs have no Snow White, his pirates have no Caribbean: adulthood and maturity are out of the question. They are the wreckage, the remains of inspiration metamorphosed into damaged artifacts—a glimpse into the artist’s mind. Paul McCarthy has never been better.