Chaos Theory


Even though these artists have been grouped under the tag of the New Cacophony, it should be pointed out that they are nevertheless all different from one another.

For example, Paul McCarthy, 60, is a kind of dirty-old-man, raving-lunatic warlock whose autoerotic, sadomasochistic crackhead stories are replete with bodily fluids, babbling nincompoop characters drawn from politics and fairy tales, red-nosed reindeers mounting elves, and demented Santas defecating chocolate into the mouths of female helpers. McCarthy is Bruce Nauman, Egon Schiele, George Grosz, Ed Kienholz, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Walt Disney rolled into one. He starts messy and stays that way. His stories have no morals; his performances barely any structure. He is noxious but strangely sweet.

By comparison, Jason Rhoades, 40, who also has a potty mouth and a knack for shock tactics, is far more organized and formal. Rhoades groups things together, creates categories, and weaves subplots that may be semi-psychotic but are decipherable and sometimes revelatory. Last season at David Zwirner his Lego reconstruction of the Kaaba surrounded by numerous euphemisms for female genitalia spelled out in neon was an alarming riot of unmitigated gall. Rhoades is much more processed than McCarthy and pushes the sculptural envelope as much as any artist—even when he’s lousy.

Sarah Sze, 36, and Phoebe Washburn, 32, “nurture” their materials more. Wholes are created and perfected, then perfected yet again. Sze is a precisionist who transforms space and creates miniature worlds within worlds. She has the touch of a spider and the mind of a saboteur, and is occasionally as deadly as both. Washburn is a combination termite-beaver-magpie; she’s a builder who accumulates, creating, almost excreting anomalous architectures and bizarre artifices. Like Sze, she is a marauding organism, someone who doesn’t just disrupt space but who inhabits and gestates within it, sometimes until an entirely new organism appears.

I’ll save for a larger space the essentializing, probably sexist, admittedly murky claim that Sze and Washburn replace the crazy-out-of-control male ego of the men with something ego-driven but more profuse and less tyrannical.