Friday, 9 December 2011


Train, Mechanical, 2003-09

A giant animatronic head-spinnin’, pig-fuckin’ double George Bush sculpture graces Hauser & Wirth in London right now. It can only mean one thing: Paul McCarthy’s come to town!

Unlikely as it may seem, I’ve had something of a week of watching politicians shagging pigs. Fictionally, of course. After visiting the McCarthy show, I turned on the first part of Charlie Brooker’s new TV series Black Mirror on Sunday, to discover a plot centred around a Cameron-esque figure who is compelled to sodomise a pig in order to free a Kate Middleton-esque Princess from the clutches of an evil kidnapper (who turned out to be a Turner Prize-winning artist). McCarthy and Brooker’s approaches to the subject differ in tone: while McCarthy’s doubled Bush is a wheezy, demon-eyed monster, Brooker's tale has a cool seriousness. As artworks, both are compelling, yet ultimately shallow: an awful lot of energy put into telling an old, if briefly satisfying, joke.

Pig Island (installation view), 2003-10

Pig Island (installation view), 2003-10

McCarthy’s assault on Bush continues across both of Hauser & Wirth’s vast Savile Row spaces. Amongst the chaos and disorder of McCarthy;s large installation Pig Island, broken bits of the former US President are to be found, alongside pirates, cowboys, Angelina Jolie and McCarthy himself. In one section, Bush is found upright but armless, clad only in a giant Stetson, like a kind of bloated, worn-down Yankie Doodle Dandy version of Michelangelo’s David. Elsewhere a giant sculpture of his head is stuffed into a shopping trolley, a toppled statue waiting to be wheeled off to the dump. There is a grim satisfaction in seeing Bush humiliated in such a fashion, but as a gesture for today it feels redundant: Bush is no longer in power, and the damage he wrought is done. The installation contains all the McCarthy hallmarks; it is sprawling, scatological, fascinatingly detailed. Yet, whereas his work in the past has felt deeply, truly unsettling, here it is faux-shocking. It raises an initial gasp of surprise, but this is more likely to be followed by a chuckle than any real desire to turn away.

The King, 2006-11

Mad House Jr, 2011

Over in the H&W Piccadilly space, McCarthy turns on himself. Entering the space, we are greeted with a huge structure, part altar, part execution platform, where a naked, long-haired sculpture of McCarthy stares blankly down at the audience. The walls are adorned with enormous, airbrushed porno paintings, plus an upside-down cowboy: macho Americana literally turned on its head. In the basement, appropriately enough, there is a film of McCarthy using an electric saw to decimate parts of his sculptural likeness; the loud whirr of the saw and the precision of the replica conspire to create a disturbing vision, but again a predictable one. Could it even be self-mockery?

With this in mind, the most surprising work here for me lies right at the top of the Piccadilly space. Here McCarthy has used mechanics to create a simpler sculpture, with the usual attempts at shock set aside. Mad House Jr (an offshoot of Mad House, created in 2008) is a spinning box, with windows but no door, containing a small camera that captures its movements and projects them onto the wall. In it, all the chaos and mess that typifies McCarthy’s work has been stripped away and somehow purified, so only the whirling, disorientating madness remains.

Ship Adrift, Ship of Fools, 2010-11. All photos by Alex Delfanne; © Paul McCarthy, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship is on show across Hauser & Wirth's London galleries until January 14. McCarthy's outdoor sculpture (shown above) will be on view in St James's Square until February 15. More info is at

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