Thursday, June 20, 2013

Paul McCarthy's Dirty White Snow - Discretion Advised

Excuse me if I'm somewhat reluctant to post on this one but I don't get to choose the news. -- OK I do, but I wouldn't be reporting responsibly if I didn't at least wave you all in the direction of the fairy tale elephant in the newsroom of the New York Times...

No, I didn't get my titles backward. This is Snow White as portrayed by "transgressive artist Paul McCarthy" in the Park Avenue Armory. Just to be clear, we're talking a shock-value, XXX rated, large scale installation of a disturbing interpretation of (interestingly, Disney's version) of Snow White.

I'm really not interested in the "what" here but the "why". Why Snow White? Why like this? Why on such a HUGE scale??

I'm just going to give you some quotes, add some brief commentary, upload some family friendly pics then let you go follow the links if you're interested in seeing more.

Excerpted from
...The show, called WS, "weaves together a fantastical forest and a three-quarter-scale house modeled after McCarthy’s own childhood home, with multi-channel video projections to immerse visitors in a world of fantasy and depravity."
Sounds really interesting, right up to the last word... 
"WS is a true Gesamtkunstwerk," says Alex Poots, Artistic Director of the Armory.
Wow - that actually sounds pretty great. I wish I wanted to see it. *blink* (Irony strikes while the shoes are hot.)

[Note from Wikipedia: A Gesamtkunstwerk (translated as total work of art, ideal work of art, universal artwork, synthesis of the arts, comprehensive artwork, all-embracing art form or total artwork) is a work of art that makes use of all or many art forms or strives to do so. The term is a German word which has come to be accepted in English as a term in aesthetics.]
"It is an overwhelming creation born out of the original Brothers Grimm fairytale and the subsequent popular interpretations that became iconic American symbols in the 20th century. Going far beyond the confines of the story, it explores the vast and at times distressingly dark corners of the human psyche."
Again: Why Snow White to explore this? Is it because she's supposed to be so innocent and free of vice that's it's all nudge-nudge, wink-wink? Isn't that a little simplistic for "high art"? The one thing that catches my eye is he includes a Walt character in the "shenanigans-is-too-nice-a-word". There are certainly more than a few people who have issues with how Mr. Disney portrayed women but I'm not even sure that's even one of the aims of the display here.
WS is an evolving work-in-progress which will continue to change during the course of the exhibit, which opens to the public tomorrow and continues through August 4th. The first thing you'll see upon entering the drill hall is a massive artificial forest filled with towering 30-foot tall trees and colorful, oversized flowers that extend across a raised lush landscape. Nestled at the center of the installation is an 8,800-square foot yellow ranch-style (haunted?) house (a three-quarter-scale exact replica of McCarthy’s childhood home), where the project’s video performances were filmed. 
(From the NYPost:)“right down to the stains in the bathroom sink,” as Damon McCarthy, the artist’s son and collaborator, put it.
Do we need to know that? I guess we do... *would not be surprised to see a portrait gallery of therapists lining the walls of one of the rooms* 

 Note: "A seven-hour video of performances shot in and around a massive set is part of the work."
7 ???! Hours!

Thanks to descriptions supplied by the NYPost I have one positive expectation from this: considering the use of roast chicken during the exhibition, there's a good chance viewers will turn vegan (or at least anti-chicken). Ick.
From the Armory press release:
Surrounding the installation, large-scale video projections feature scenes from a subversive and explicit alternative fairytale in which the character Walt Paul—played by McCarthy as an amalgam of himself and the archetypes of a movie producer, artist, father and other roles—cavorts with a cast of characters including White Snow, a figure who represents both the archetypal virgin and vixen, a daughter as well as a fairytale princess. Dwarves, the Prince, and doubles for Walt Paul and White Snow are part of the action. Drawing loosely upon the classic story and interweaving references to the history of art, the performance becomes a bacchanal.
  • Is it news? Yes. (To deny this is to deny the fairy tale elephant in the press room this week!) 
  • Is it big? YES! (All seem to agree that the size of this is... big.)
  • Is it amazing? Probably.
  • Is it an achievement? Yyyeee...sss? (Depends on what you're trying to achieve... All the giant trees, food and sprinkles splatter, sound a little large-scale hokey to me, as do the shock-factor antics - but, of course, to give props, that takes work too... *wonders about funding, realize I don't want to know*)
  • Is it necessary? Not for me.
  • Is it Art? ...(please fill in the blank)...
I'll leave you with one more thing: this is the most thoughtful (and useful to fairy tale people) quote I found, wading through all the splashy-splashy, snicker-snort, avant-garde-kowtowing, shock-horror, how-dare-he-sully-Snow! extremes of coverage today. (I should preface it by telling you the article first makes it clear just how depraved some of the acts are, that viewers pay to see. Discretion advised if you go look them up. Seriously.) 
There's a long history of fairy tales being not just scary but actually sexual, involving adult romps, cannibalism, chaos, torture — the whole nine-yards of our twisted inner lives. McCarthy is trying to tap into that. He always has, sometimes fantastically well. This time, that drilling down didn't strike the darkness...
One very tony Upper East Side lady pulled me aside at the opening and whispered, "What's shocking about all this is how un-shocking it is. It's just standard clowning around." She’s right.
And now the ELEPHANT has been acknowledged. 
From here on, I can blog happily, ever after.
- The End -

(I'm wishing...)

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