Becoming Paul McCarthy: Yes, It’s About America (Part 3 of 3)
“Yes, it’s about America. It’s about America at this moment… But it’s also about the condition of the world.”
We went to Los Angeles and visited Paul McCarthy, one of the most influential and groundbreaking contemporary American artists, known for his wide-ranging and often disturbing oeuvre. In this video, which is the third part of our series of three videos with McCarthy, he talks about delving into America’s dark side, holding up a “cracked mirror” to society. Together, the three videos offer a unique presentation of the artist’s work and artistic process.
In this final part of our mini-series on the work of Paul McCarthy he reflects about one of his latest works, ‘CSSC: Coach Stage Stage Coach’ (2017), which is built upon clichés from old Hollywood Westerns such as ‘Stage Coach’ with John Wayne, which he finds is a “prime example of Hollywood western creating a myth about the West. A fucked-up myth. The colonialism, the imperialism of America. The atrocity of the American Indians… just the atrocity of the Americas. All of that hidden and camouflaged in racism within Hollywood of the 30s, 40s, 50s.” The characters in ‘CSSC’ are Ronald Regan (looking like J.P. Morgan), Nancy Regan, Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, Adam and Eve, which he considers symbolic of America. Regan, McCarthy explains, marks the beginning of “a new America” and this new republican party, where the economical belief was that giving the money to the rich would trickle down to the poor: “You have a concept, and then you have an indoctrination. And indoctrination becomes the key to fascism.”
Another of his recent works, which McCarthy touches upon, is the piece ‘DADDA: Donald and Daisy Duck Adventure’ (2018), which he argues is a portrait of America for the last 30-40 years. “Yes, it’s about America. It’s about America at this moment… But it’s also about the condition of the world.” The owners of the saloon in the work is owned by Donald and Daisy Duck – miming Donald Trump and Melania Trump. In the saloon, there are various prostitute characters – from Nancy Reagan and Andy Warhol to Minnie Mouse and Heidi. All the characters kill each other over and over again without alliances: “So it goes back to this original idea of a kind of cross-violence and chaos…” Trump, McCarthy argues, represents a certain kind of thought, and an exaggeration or caricature of that thought. “At what point is Donald Trump different from Donald Duck?” McCarthy asks.
In continuation of this, McCarthy reflects about himself and his work as an artist. He argues, that he produces representations or mirrors of society, and that – by doing this – he could be mistaken as being part of the problem, as if he would be joining what is ugly. But he is not: “Of course that situation as art is capsulized, meaning it’s kind of shrunk down into a caricature. It’s shrunk down into a visible caricature. Like you take reality and shrink it down to an hour and a half… You take all the elements and bring them together and capsulize it so it can be seen, so it can be visible.” It’s an involvement, McCarthy feels. “I am involved!”
Paul McCarthy (b. 1945) is an American artist. McCarthy’s often provocative works – frequently taking aim at consumerism, popular culture, and our innermost fears and neuroses – encompass performance, photography, film, multimedia installations, sculpture, drawing and painting. He regularly appropriates icons of popular culture including Santa Claus and Snow White, recasting them as violent, malicious and depraved. McCarthy’s work has been exhibited at prominent venues worldwide, and solo exhibitions have been held at Monnaie de Paris, Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, Whitney Museum in New York, and Moderna Museet in Stockholm, among others. He has also participated in the Berlin Biennial (2006), the Whitney Biennial (1995, 1997, 2004), and the Venice Biennale (1993, 1999, 2001).
Paul McCarthy was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at his studio in Los Angeles in November 2018.