Backdoor Man

For me his high point is Painter. In this 1995 one-hour video, he gets depravity, degradation, and vulgarity to sync perfectly with pathos, plot, and character. We see McCarthy, pantless, dressed in a painter's smock, a bulbous nose, and a blond wig, enacting primal scenes of creativity: painting with huge brushes; dragging around giant tubes marked "Red" and "Shit"; muttering, "I can't do this"; murmuring, "De Kooning, De Kooning." He rants at his female dealer, hacks off his fingertip, looks miserable sitting next to art collectors, and stoops as an art critic sniffs his rear. Painteris so uncannily accurate it should be required viewing for every art student.

There's a dark side to modernism: Cultural Gothic (1992), at the New Museum.
photo: Robin Holland
There's a dark side to modernism: Cultural Gothic (1992), at the New Museum.

Details

Paul McCarthy
New Museum of Contemporary Art
583 Broadway
Through May 13

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Using actors—as he does in Painter, Santa, and his so-so collaborations with Mike Kelley, Heidiand Fresh Acconci—is a great idea for McCarthy. It expands his art, gets him beyond narcissism, and allows him to plumb other ids. But after 30 years of shtick, McCarthy's work still feels stuck in its own devices, paraphernalia, and pseudo-rituals. Judging from the looks of his gigantic public sculpture, The Box, McCarthy thinks so, too. In this huge, upended replica of his studio with more than 3000 objects attached, the artist is in extreme search mode. A whatever-it-takes work, The Boxis a grandly self-abnegating bulimic gesture—a total sculptural purging. Its bluntness, bravery, and desperation suggest McCarthy's search may yet bear fruit.

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