Even those suffering from acute post-Venice fatigue found themselves invigorated by the Paul McCarthy extravaganza, which opened at the Haus der Kunst in Munich on Saturday night. (A pair of private jets organised by Hauser & Wirth to ferry collectors from La Serenissima to the German city also helped ease the strain.)
“LaLa Land Parody Paradise” is McCarthy’s largest show in Europe to date, and the 60-year-old artist and his son Damon have spent the last month in Munich, putting together what everyone is describing as “an historic show”.
The giant inflatable flowers crowning the building’s façade give an intimation of the spectacle within; they also transform what was Hitler’s favourite art gallery and the Third Reich’s first major monumental building into a giant flower pot.
Once inside, in lofty rooms newly stripped back to their original Third Reich splendour, McCarthy unleashes the meticulously orchestrated mayhem of which only he is capable.
“LaLa Land Parody Paradise” marks the coming together of two major themes in his work: The Pirate Project and The Western project, each of which reaches an apogee in two massive new installations and accompanying videos, shown here with closely related earlier work.
Inside the gallery’s central space McCarthy has constructed a giant wooden stockade, complete with look-out towers and ringed by five covered wagons.
On the opening night visitors were treated to a performance-in-progress, in which a troop of actors decked out as American cavalry officers became increasingly drunk and disorderly. Throughout the evening this rowdy posse took control of the production, filming themselves as they caroused, brawled and broke out of their compound to lurch and crawl among the guests, some of whom found themselves in the unusual situation of trying to negotiate a full Bavarian-style buffet with a pair of dishevelled cavalry men rolling at their feet.
Shiver me timbers
Audible gasps of awe accompanied the sight of McCarthy’s three-storey high, rusty red fibreglass pirate galleon, that fills the eastern wing, rubbing up against a trailer-trash-style house boat, both of which bear the squalid aftermath of two new video works projected onto the walls of adjoining rooms. In the three-screen Pirate video, McCarthy joins forces with his film-maker son Damon to present over an hour of unspeakable acts of violence and depravity enacted by a vicious and prosthetically- enhanced pirate crew, presided over by a vast-bellied McCarthy in the role of first mate.
The House Boat video, also the work of McCarthy & son, draws on the scary dual influences of Pasolini’s “Salo” and Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and shows a rapid degeneration of domestic modernity into utter debauchery, all lubricated with lashings of chocolate syrup.
The third element of The Pirate Project is perhaps the most ambitious of all. The epic Underwaterworld is a minor miracle of engineering, in which some 20,000 pounds of steel tubing, more than a quarter of a mile of welds and four Nord elevator motors have all been employed to create three room-size tilting chambers that pitch and yaw simultaneously like a fairground ride gone horribly wrong.
Add to all of this a room full of giant inflatable cigarette packets, an abundance of plaster body casts, a hyper-real Duane Hanson/Ron Mueck eat-your-hearts-out sculpture of the snoozing artist, together with an abundance of drawings and a dreaming, twitching life-sized animatronic pig, and the protean range of this artist begins to beggar belief.
All of this cornucopian outpouring, however, is reined-in by a keen sense of the continuity within McCarthy’s work with the addition of some carefully chosen early works including the seminal 1974 Whipping wall, along with reworked versions of Dead H Crawl (1968) and Plaster your head and one arm into a wall (1973).
Get those wagons rolling
No sooner was the exhibition unveiled than the maverick McCarthy set about dismantling a major part of it. The result was an unforgettable parade-cum-performance where Bavarian Germany met the Wild West with surreal results. On Sunday morning the Western wagons were taken outside, harnessed up to five pairs of sturdy Bavarian draught horses, decked out in traditional harness, and rolled through Hirshau Park accompanied by a leather-shorted Bavarian brass band and thigh-slapping male dancers. McCarthy, resplendent in pioneer hat and giant boots, would occasionally break off to indulge in a little Bavarian whooping and thigh-slapping with an energy that belied his 60 years.
All in all, the event was deemed to be a triumph, with McCarthy using all his formal and conceptual powers to inhabit the Haus der Kunst and engage with its troubled history with both audacity and grace. As he himself put it, “When does history not overshadow everything else? The Haus der Kunst has been occupied by whole other generations of people—this is its history, the history of forget the past, forget the 1930s and move on.” So roll those wagons and shiver those timbers.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'With McCarthy, the Wild West meets the oompah-band'