The Fairest Of Them All

We entered Paul McCarthy’s darkly humorous and always controversial psyche in the cavernous space of the new 18th Street Hauser & Wirth, where a depraved mix of art history, Hollywood, and fairytales collide in Paul McCarthy: Sculptures.  Dwarfed by monumental black walnut sculptures of "White Snow," the artist's version of Snow White, and overwhelmed by the numerous scrawled drawings of overtly sexualized White Snow, McCarthy’s exhibition is nothing if not shocking, thought-provoking and memorable.

Once Upon A Time

Spring 2013 in the New York art world clearly belongs to Paul McCarthy, as it has become near impossible to avoid his art.  In addition to the two current exhibitions at the 18th Street and 69th Street Hauser & Wirth, McCarthy’s bronze sculpture “Sisters” stands along the Hudson River and his “Balloon Dog,” a nod to and a jab at fellow artist Jeff Koons, rose above the recent Frieze Art Fair. 

Two gallery visitors attempting to grasp the content of McCarthy's sculptures. Photo: Elizabeth Borda

Following his fascination with the iconic fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, as well as the classic 1937 Disney incarnation, McCarthy fills Hauser & Wirth with a plethora of representations of White Snow.  A hallucinatory viewing experience, the artist places the viewer into the enchanted forest through his brown, bark-like and oddly fecal “White Snow Tree Forest Monochrome” paintings. While his paintings, as well as his perverse White Snow drawings based on Marcel Duchamp’s “Étant donnés,” are undeniably fascinating and slightly traumatizing, the strength of the exhibition lies in McCarthy’s amorphous wooden sculptures of White Snow, her Prince and Dopey. 

“White Snow Tree Forest Monochrome” by Paul McCarthy. Photo: Elizabeth Borda

Transforming tacky and kitschy movie memorabilia into gigantic sculptures such as “White Snow, Erection,” he disrupts the viewer’s attempt at finding the narrative of the well-known fairytale. Multiple heads, bodies and characters merge together, as if melting, and White Snow, without her iconic red lips, black hair and snow-white skin, becomes lost in the wooden distortion.  

"White Snow, Cindy" by Paul McCarthy. Photo: Elizabeth Borda

Not only does McCarthy dismantle the narrative of Snow White through the warping of the characters, he also plays with White Snow’s sexuality.  Normally a virginal, chaste character, in McCarthy’s hands she becomes hypersexualized.  In works such as “White Snow, Cindy,” McCarthy conflates Snow White’s innocence with Cindy Crawford’s sexuality, using the grain and color of the black walnut wood to produce a Crawford-like birthmark above White Snow’s gaping mouth.

Eerily Ever After

Perhaps the most striking and significant sculpture in the entire exhibition is McCarthy’s extravagantly enormous “White Snow, Bookends.”  Standing twelve and fourteen feet high, these monumental bookends feature a mélange of characters, horses and shapes, becoming almost an abstraction.  An energetic combination of action and movement, “White Snow, Bookends” requires repeated study as the viewer moves around and through the two sculptures, noticing the various grains of black walnut on the flat inside of the bookends.

“White Snow, Bookends” by Paul McCarthy. Photo: Elizabeth Borda

Referencing the act of reading and storytelling, “White Snow, Bookends” reflects the theoretical foundation of Paul McCarthy: Sculptures.  Through the depiction of bookends, McCarthy indicates us that we've entered into his own demented and disturbing fairytale. Enter if you dare.

Article by Emily Colucci