Paul McCarthy in Kumu

February 15 – April 15, 2007
Kumu Art Museum, The Gallery (5th floor)


The Kumu Contemporary Art Gallery is exhibiting the works of renowned and controversial US video artist, performance art, and sculptor Paul McCarthy (b.1945).

Black and White Tapes is a black-and-white version of McCarthy’s early performances executed in 1970-75, which in its mixed form, aspires to be an independent artistic whole of the artist’s early work.

The Family Tyranny/Cultural Soup video, completed in 1987 with Mike Kelly, became cult icons of radical video art right after its birth.

Both works are examples of experimental art, which, with their ideological and physical forms of expression, contrast purposefully with the traditions of conventional aesthetics, to achieve a disconnection of the latter from activities related to the renewal of creative art.

In the person of McCarthy, the revolutionary must be exchanged for a significantly more violent and dangerous image. During 40 years, he has dangerously destabilized the concept of representation in art, and for this, been pelted with mud and rewarded with large retrospectives at the world’s leading museums of modern art.

The narrative of McCarthy’s plot is anachronistic. It is characterized by free pointlessness, a bafflingly rich bouquet of metaphors, and descriptions of rampant activity.

McCarthy’s work can be divided into periods, although, the initial elements are stable and repeat throughout his life. His position as an independent artist conceals his actual points of departure and basting threads, as well has his connection to the underground that blossomed in US art in the 70s. Rather, it is his interest in body art that dates back to his college days that is emphasized. In the collection introducing his early works, we see an anti-dialogue with the school of Abstract Expressionist painting that dominated at the time. McCarthy is able to reduce Pollock’s impetuous painting gymnastics to maniacally tireless daubing.

The clear coordinates of activity disappear, although he is disgustingly attached to the body, and its sexuality, the symbolism of which, thanks to exaggerated metaphors, is impenetrable. Thomas McEvilley, an American art criticwho is well-known even in Estonia, acknowledges in the foreword to McCarthy’s catalogue, which was published by Moderna Museet in connection with the giant retrospective in 2006, that “McCarthy’s art is based on his body like the stream of blood is based on the veins, and this is a serious exploratory trip of the darker areas of the body.” McCarthy has been crowned with the status of a classic of body art, although it is more difficult to speak of his later style, which combines the ritualistic plots of Hollywood soap operas and the pop stars of cooking shows. His works open a totally new facet of pop culture in a treatment resembling a maniacal caricature. Many critics, who are aware of the devaluation in social criticism, find consolation in McCarthy’s exaggerations. He is also treated as a true-believing incarnation of psychoanalytic clichés, whose fantasies collide with the involuntary conception related to the infantile phase. He also has period of deep infatuation with surrealism, although many critics view his activities as seemingly more accessible from the viewpoint of US horror films.

McCarthy is a suitable example for those cases when we want to enter the complicated interrogation of anti-art, which, in Estonia, has been treated unilaterally by art lovers with limited fantasy from the viewpoint of shit art. Actually, our belletristic addresses on the topic of anti-art do not differ from the positions of the former Soviet period, although McCarthy is more closely related to the being of contemporary art, than are ordinary, commercially oriented approaches to art.

To broaden the horizons of art, Kumu plans to create a regular series of the great names of video art, which will bring the works of artists that have played important roles in the art classics to the viewer.

McCarthy’s videos are exhibited in cooperation with Electronic Arts Intermix, New York.