Lock And Load

Art's Bad Boys Mark Their Targets

If last autumn brought overdue surveys of underrated women, namely Yoko Ono and Adrian Piper, the spring belongs to some of the toughest guys around. New work by Martin Kersels, Sean Landers, Brad Kahlhamer, Glenn Ligon, Takashi Murakami, Mike Smith, Steven Pippin, Roxy Paine, and Ron Mueck hits the gallery walls. So does old work by three of the most sublime dead white males ever: Vermeer, William Blake, and Marcel Duchamp. And in May, half a century's worth of Leon Golub's abrasive paintings of giants and mercenaries hole up in the Brooklyn Museum. This may be the season of the unrepentant renegade male.

Right now, Paul McCarthy is taking New York by storm. It's not as if the West Coast actionist is exactly a stranger in our town, but with a retrospective of some 100 works at the New Museum of Contemporary Art (through May 13, 583 Broadway, 219-1222), two installations at Luhring Augustine (through April 4, 531 West 24th Street, 206-9100), a third in Deitch Projects' garage-annex (through April 7, 18 Wooster Street, 343-7300), and a fourth in the former IBM building's garden courtyard (through April 20, 590 Madison Avenue, 980-4575), this Salt Lake City-born artist's fabulously twisted vision arrives with barrels blazing. Finally we get the full impact of his acute sensibility and his regressive behavioral art, which revels in blood, guts, sex, violence, potty accidents, male hysteria, and vomitous spew (mostly metaphoric), as well as tree fucking and other primal forms of infantile tantrum, adolescent yuckiness, and visceral delight. Housebroken, he's not.

McCarthy's messy fusion of unrestrained performance, installation, sculpture, video, ketchup, chocolate, paint, toilet humor, and drawing, which spans the past 25 years, remains consistently and thoroughly ornery. He gave birth, as it were, not only to a slew of unforgettable ketchup-and mayo-splattered images but also to a litter of other twisted artists. In fact, his anal-oral-genital stew of cultural clichés, social taboos, art-historical send-ups (including a gilded parody of Jeff Koons's Michael Jackson), and grossout humor may have spawned the whole genre of maverick bad-boy art, from Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, and John Miller on. McCarthy, however, a graduate of an agricultural college in Utah, has been going at it longer than anyone. He's more than an impulsive naughty boy: His is truly wild-man art.

Paul McCarthy's Sauce Box splatters onto the New Museum of Contemporary Art.
photo courtesy of New Museum of Contemporary Art
Paul McCarthy's Sauce Box splatters onto the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

So it's hard to believe that the current New Museum retrospective, which premiered at L.A.'s MOCA, is the first survey ever of his sculptural, architectural, and photographic performative work. Supplementing it is McCarthy's legendary 1991-92 installation, The Garden, which has never been seen in New York. No Eden, it reveals its motorized secrets at Deitch Projects's garage-annex. At Luhring Augustine, Santa Chocolate Shop, a highlight of the 1997 Whitney Biennial, reappears along with a new sculpture titled Wooden Boxhead.

As if that's not enough, McCarthy's 1999 installation, The Box, previously shown only in St. Gallen, Switzerland, reveals its contents in the former IBM building's garden lobby, thanks to the Public Art Fund. A vast, cluttered work space 50 feet long and 20 feet high, it contains the entire contents of his California studio—chairs, shelves, tools, worktables, found objects, video cassettes, and all. The catch—and there's always a catch to his work—is that this off-the-wall studio-in-a-box (and its contents) is installed at a skewed right angle to reality. Think of it as the workshop of a latter-day Gepetto, where blockheads and other critters, including one with a rabbity head and a 50-foot-long rubber penis, are hammered into being.

"I've always had an interest in repression, guilt, sex, and shit," said McCarthy a couple of years ago. His in-your-face, over-the-top oeuvre of violation—enacting taboo rituals of penetration, castration, and elimination—is now getting its overdue 15 minutes of testosterone-fueled Big Apple fame. But his pioneering work, which has long exposed our heritage of prurient puritanism and hypocrisy, has staying power as well as shock value. Exposing our heritage of not-so-little white lies involving innocence, depravity, cowboys, Indians, and other mythic aspects of boyish Americana, as well as tastelessness and trauma, McCarthy's outrageous art guarantees that neither Pollock's drips and dribbles nor the Absolut Vodka billboard on Lafayette Street will ever seem quite the same. Neither will Pinocchio or Santa Claus.

March 6-April 14

Sculpture Center, 167 East 69th Street, 879-3500

Finnbogi Petursson, Roman Signer, and Holly Zausner are among the artists in this show of instantaneous, transitory, and ephemeral sculpture, curated by Gregory Volk and Sabine Russ.

March 8-April 7

Lance Fung, 537 Broadway, 334-6242

In "New Inventions, Part Two," the Thai artist presents his fictitious mad inventor's mad mechanisms for exploring Eastern and Western ideas.

March 8-May 27

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street, 879-5500

Some transcendent paintings by Vermeer are the draw here.

March 9-April 28

Lehmann Maupin, 39 Greene Street, 965-0753

"Set Diagram" crams in 60 new paintings, each of which measures one meter by one yard.

March 10-April 14

Gagosian, 555 West 24th Street, 741-1111

An artist whose polite abstractions are infiltrated with subtle but insistent symbols of African American invisibility shows new paintings.

March 10-April 21

Metro Pictures, 519 West 24th Street, 206-7100

The new paintings, drawings, and sculptures in this show are the latest in his series of dreamed objects.

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