Monday, June 24, 2013

A look at Paul McCarthy's dog and pony show WS at The Park Avenue Armory

The overused publicity picture
I went to see what publicists will tell you is a show so shocking that no one under 17 will be admitted. Its suppose to have graphic and shocking things that may upset has none of that. Its rather tame and boring unless you don't get out much.

The one thing I'm upset about is that I got suckered into paying to see it. Okay, yes, it was part of a subscription but jeeze, I could have gone to see a couple of Jackie Chan movies for what it cost, and I won't even get into the time it took to get there, back and go through the installation-it's time I will never get back.

Let me cut to the chase and say up front do yourself a favor and don't go. If you haven't bought tickets don't and if you do have tickets give them to some one you really hate...

WS is a riff  on Snow White or more specifically Disney's incarnation of it. I've read some of the bull crap stuff that was fed to the press by artist Paul McCarthy where he says its a meditation on fairy tales as well as American Myths and icons.. Yeah and I'm a blonde size 2 swimsuit model on the cover of Sports Illustrated...The only fairy tale in evidence here is Snow White and the only American icon is Walt Disney who is represented by the character McCarthy plays in the films called Walt Paul (though he looks more like a portly waiter than Disney).

No, wait that's not right this isn't a riff on Snow White but rather it's the wholesale rip off of anyone dumb enough to go and the Park Avenue Armory who mistakenly foot the bill for this. What I mean by that is that there is nothing behind anything we see. There simply no substance to any of it, unless you read the interviews which explain it all for you, at which point you'll be confused at how such a large under taking could have such small ideas.   Besides, why should I have to read on it? Art should speak for itself, it shouldn't have to be explained.

(I need to say at this point tat all my vitriol is directed at Paul McCarthy and not the Armory. I can't blame them since they didn't create the art)

I freely admit that it was my own fault for going to see this. I really wasn't interested in going, I was going to blow off the tickets, but the last week or so of press coverage piqued my curiosity. Of course I should have known I was in for a bad time when one thing I read said that McCarthy once threw up all over a classroom and called it art.

Walking into the armory the first thing I noticed was how empty it was. I've never been to an Armory show that had this few people milling around. This was not a good sign.

I picked up my tickets and then I wandered around the entry hall.  I saw the gift shop which is full of Disney Snow White crap, the freezer of Snow White dolls, a room with a vast model of the installation (remember this, I'll come back to it), there is a room where a recording of McCarthy talking about the piece plays (which a couple people were using to to make cell phone calls from because it was the most quiet place with chairs) and there is a  room where there are costumes were set out to look over while a film involving McCarthy's Walt Paul character and Snow White in a real forest played.

I didn't know what any of this was  and I figured what was in the drill hall would put it into context, I headed inside....

At either end of the drill hall hang four huge screens the seven hour (yes seven hours) The Feature: The Armory Cut which is the tale of Snow White from four points of view on  four screens simultaneously. What I mean by this is we watch as four cameras record each event. I tried to ignore the screens which kind of draw in your attention thanks to their size and loud sound (Snow White was moaning-don't ask what she was doing) and instead headed to the first part of the installation- a recreation of a tract house  where we look in on the carnage left behind. Snow White and the Prince lay dead on the floor of a living room. There is garbage and signs of a drunken orgy all around. Walking around the outside of the house you look in through windows and small holes cut into the walls. You can only see bits of  each room. For something as big as it is there is very little you actually see, mostly garbage in empty rooms.  If you wander around long enough you will eventually find  a Walt Paul mannequin hog tied over a bucket of apples with a broom jammed up his bottom so far its sticking out his mouth. (It's not that shocking since it looks more plastic than real)

All of this is presented with out any context which makes it vexing and kind of pointless. I had no idea  what it all meant but it was clear that it took a great deal to make. There was nothing deep in any of it, I mean its garbage filled empty rooms with a trio of fake corpses, whats the deep meaning? Looking up at the screens above me I realized that perhaps it would mean something if I had seven hours to watch the whole feature. I mean after seven hours it would explain everything right? Maybe, but then again I was not in the mood to try and find out since what I was seeing over the house was unremarkable- and I'd have to pretty much stand for the whole seven hours.

After the house I wanted to see the forest. What you could be glimpse over the house looked really cool- the trouble was once I walked toward it I realized  you really can't see it. You can see the outside of it but you  can't see into it. Granted, there are two tiny paths that allow you minimal access to it, but its not enough to see anything.  Complicating things further is the whole forest about three or four feet off the ground so you're looking up at it (see below).
The raised forest and the short walk in
Now I need to state that as part of the installation you can go up on the walk ways or balconies that are on the sides of the drill hall. While it is really really cool to be up there, you can't see much from up there since the forest is so far way and the trees are so high you can't see anything. Basically they've built a fantasy forest, which would be impressive if you could see it, but you can't since you're kept at a distance.

My question is why build the thing is no one is going to see it? Actually that's not right, this is the set the movie was filmed in, so the real question is why did you bring it here if we can't look at it?

Now remember I said something about the model? Being up on the walkways, hell walking though much of the exhibit gives you the same view as you see when you look at the model in the outer room, only the real thing is bigger, especially true since you are not allowed to go anywhere  near the model (you're three to four feet away).

After looking everything from above, and watching a chunk of the main hall feature (Snow White was meeting the Dwarfs at this point- "you're Humpy") I went to see the nine films that were showing in "the bunkers" under the balconies. These films involved sequences happening within the house and the forest at various times.  They make up some of the most pretentious crap I've ever seen.  I mean I saw things like
  • Walt Paul twirling in a kitchen while Snow White cooks
  • Snow White chopping up veggies while pretending they were Paul's penis
  • Snow White giving surrogate head to a boom mic held by Paul (This goes on for 15 minutes)
  • Prince Charming screwing a love doll (There is over an hour of this)
  • Snow White masturbating in the forest
  • Snow White having lesbian sex with another Snow White
  • A naked Snow White reclining on a couch and talking to Paul as if she were his mother
Most of what I saw made me laugh out loud which made the people watching the confused movies more confused.

Wandering outside I saw  that on the big screens some sort of proto-sexual rumpus was occurring between the dwarfs and Snow White and then everyone went to bed only to wake up and do morning things. It went on from there...

Somewhere about that time I had had enough. I walked out of the Armory because my jaw was tied from hanging open from the stupidity of it all. 

My over riding reaction to it all was REALLY???? You really think this is serious?

I couldn't, and still don't see the point of anything in the show. I say this with the addendum that I've since read things on the show which explains things and I still don't get it, nor do I buy it. Whats the point?

Walking to the subway I called up my friend Lou and told him I was unhappy he didn't go with me since there was no one to make fun of it with. On the other hand it just wasn't worth the effort to schlep all the way there.

To me the whole thing is an example of why so much modern art gets a bad name. It's the work of a guy with technical talent (or the ability to buy it) and the greater skill to be able to sell people, who should know better, some real crap. There is talk of deep meaning, but there isn't any beyond the alleged intentions of the artist to make some money.

Nothing in the multiple  films or the exhibition covers any new ground or even remotely clever ideas.If there were any ideas on display and not in the notes I never saw it. It's like watching a too clever for words art student make "deeply meaningful" erotica by dressing it up with Disney images and big noses...hell if it wasn't for the damn Snuffy Smith noses that everyone has this could be called weak art porn. Nothing that is promised is on display, which in this case is a deconstruction of American myth and fairy tales.

Frankly if  you want to see better deconstruction of fairy tales (and better erotica) see some of the adult and semi-adult films turned out in the 1970's such as  Bill Osco's Alice In Wonderland musical or Fairy Tales. Actually you might do better with some of the more recent adult films being since some of the directors know how to walk the fine like between parody and pretensions.

If you're looking for a deconstruction of American myths how about trying the old stand by South Park? Matt Parker and Trey Stone demolish everything week after week in half an hour and do it more cleverly than Paul McCarthy does it in seven plus hours and a huge installation.  (Start with the Imaginationland episodes which cover all sides of the debate in one 80 minute package)

As for the notion of the films that make up the show are shocking, its dead nuts wrong. Having watched chunks of all of the films it's clear that McCarthy doesn't know from shocking. He's operating on the level of a sheltered twelve year old who doesn't really know how to transgress but id trying anyway. Watching the films I was reminded of the cage rattling Sweet Movie by  DuĊĦan Makavejev. That film pushes every button and then some.  Makavejev pushes things as far as he can by including a sequence with Therapy Commune involving bodily fluids in ways I won't get into (and if you really want your buttons pushed further I have 2 DVDs of the Commune's short films I could show you)

Comparing art film /installation to an art film/ installation  I realize that the only thing that WS only can be compared to is Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle. That monstrous sequence of film and artifacts dwarfs this exhibition in so many ways. Comparing Cremaster  to WS is like comparing the Sistine Chapel to a stick figure. You can't do it, one is a work of art, the other isn't. While I have issues with Cremaster and Barney,  it's  clear Barney has a brain and some unique ideas, and even if he is conning us sometimes, he  puts out some amazing works of art (pick any of the sequences that work in Cremaster's third segment). I can't say that about McCarthy.

In the end one question remains: What is WS and why are we being asked to see it? Despite my best efforts I still don't know. I keep looking at some of the promo stills and and reading the promo blurbs and I keep wondering where the hell are all the things they promised? I don't have a clue. I do think the films are what McCarthy was aiming at and he only brought the house and forest along  because the Armory would be empty without them.

I know someone might say that I didn't see it all., they will say I don't get it because I didn't see enough. I wandered around for an hour or so and then left.  I mean several people were sitting in the main hall seemingly in for the long haul. Perhaps they will see enough to really judge the piece. Maybe I need to see more. Maybe not.

While I freely admit that I did not watch it all, I have to ask what is enough? Think about it- the main film is seven hours long plus the additional films run another fifteen or so hours. That's twenty two total hours, that's at least four trips to the armory. While I will concede that there may, possibly, perhaps, be something worth seeing in the twenty two plus hours of material, based on the hour plus of what I saw, there was no sign of it anywhere. It still could be there somewhere but I don't have that much time to throw away on something that probably doesn't exist...

I think the most apt thing I can say about WS is that with its installation the Armory is like most of the rooms in the tract house- completely empty except for some garbage.

 If you're smart ignore the show and go for a walk instead.
The woods are lovely dark and deep but I'd rather go home and sleep

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