“A one liner that didn’t need to be made, but thank God it’s not as disgusting as his usual work.”

Paul McCarthy’s eagerly awaited ginormous “Balloon Dog” will soon be open to public viewing. Paaaaah! Lucky art fans will be able to see it at the New York art fair this weekend at Randall Island.

“Balloon Dog”, by Paul McCarthy (2013).  Ya, ve have der viener doggen.

Paul McCarthy was my “New Genre” teacher at UCLA more than twenty years ago, so I’ve given him probably a lot more attention than I would if I hadn’t been subjected to his instruction. After watching about as much as I could bear of his video, “Painter” (1995), a few weeks ago – I got bored to death – I decided that the anxieties and dark sexual undercurrents of American culture which his art seemed to be about existed more in him than in the culture at large. McCarthy’s work is disgusting and disturbing, but I’m getting that it’s more of a “personal problem” than a critique of American culture, society in general, or the current stage of the development of civilization.

Artist Paul McCarthy
Artist Paul McCarthy

I have a similar feeling about Sigmund Freud, which is that perhaps HE had spent too long in the anal stage of development, and HE had patricidal inclinations coupled with libidinous feelings toward his mother that are not normal for most the rest of us. Sometimes when we dig deep in our own psyches to unveil the substratum of humanity, we do nothing of the sort, but merely double over on our own lower obsessions, then project them grandiosely onto everyone else. Too much Freud and not enough Buddha makes for sloppy, self-indulgent dwelling on adolescent fixations and obsessions that can get boring pretty quickly. Indeed, McCarthy’s work seems to be enveloped entirely within a Western, psychosexual context in which clearing the mind of such basal obstructions isn’t even a consideration.

Are we really as fucked up deep down in the hidden recesses of our psyche as the performance art piece below from Paul McCarthy suggests? Do most people get up to this sort of thing in private? I don’t think so.

Paul McCarthy in a performance (I dunno when, sometimes in the 70's)
Paul McCarthy,  Grand Pop (Performance, Los Angeles 1977)

I confess that I sorta’ like McCarthy’s work, partly because of the shock value of getting to present him (possibly the most repulsive artist on the planet) as one of my teachers. He was also an influence on me as a student, and I did some disgusting performances of my own, including one guerrilla piece in HIS class where, unannounced, I took the lid off a 5 gallon white bucket which I’d filled with pig’s blood before class, quietly submerged my head in it for as long as I could hold my breath, then sat up, and didn’t say a word. A girl screamed when I pulled my head out of the bucket because you could hear all the dripping blood, and of course it was red as all hell. In fact, it looked almost exactly like the pic of Paul I posted above where he’s covered in red paint or whatever. I’ve even gone in public (while in grad school) with a shaved head, and raw eggs, ketchup/mustard, and other condiments caked on my pate and glasses. I showed up to graduate seminars like that and other students complained about the smell and that I’d left smears of sauces that attracted ants. I got stopped by the police on campus once (actually tackled by one) because I was going around with baloney sticking out of my back pocket, covered in condiments, with a bale of sticks strapped to my back (spray painted high-gloss chrome), and wielding a cardboard space-scepter. I mention these things because I don’t wanna’ completely dump on the guy. [Incidentally, I never did any of that work for a class or got a grade or critique on it.]

The problem I see with the Goliath “balloon dog” is it’s just an idea, and I’m willing to bet someone else did most of the actual production/execution of the piece, kinda’ like Jeff Koons‘ (no relation) giant “Puppy”.

Jeff Koons “Puppy” (’92).  Paul McCarthy “Complex shit” (’08)

Koons made a cute puppy that everyone loves because they love cute puppies and flowers. He undoubtedly intended some irony, but that’s not why people like it. I kinda’ like it too, more for how well it was executed than the idea, but I’ve never seen it in person, which is an important point I’m going to come back to. I’m positive McCarthy was influenced by Koons, who also did “balloon dog” art, but thought, “why don’t I make a giant dog shit?” And so he did. It actually lost it’s moorings in Berne, where it was “showing” at a Swiss Museum, and terrorized the town – an unforeseen eventuality the artist probably relished: article about the escaped shit.

Jeff Koons,
Jeff Koons, “Balloon Dog,” chrome (2000). Yo, it’s been done, Dawg!

I’m not even sure why McCarthy bothered to make the giant balloon dog after Koons had already made his over-sized chrome ones, unless of course McCarthy is making a wry art-historical-commentary on Koons’ art, but that seems too precious and cerebral. Koons’ dogs were interesting, a tad, because of the change in material, so that what at first looked like a helium filled balloon was actually heavy, and hard as steel. McCarthy returned the dog to its balloon form, but just made it into the Gulliver of all dog balloons.

How hard is it to make this kind of art, really? It’s more about the idea than the actual craftsmanship, which is typically done by someone else to begin with. The most important ingredient is having the connections, funds, and wherewithal to produce the monstrosity. But do we really need for it to be built to get the idea? It must be realized in the physical world in order to show it and sell it, but when it comes to accessing it, most people are going to just see a photo on the internet. This makes me wonder if someone Photoshopped some other object so it looked gargantuan, say, in front of a museum – would it have the same effect on the viewer as looking at a reproduction of McCarthy’s overdeveloped “Balloon Dog”? In order to test this, I’m working on a giant “Sigmund the Sea Monster,” which has been altered in a way that lends him subversive postmodern street cred. [Update: finished it. You can see it at the bottom of the post.]

Meanwhile, I remain unconvinced that the hideous subconscious McCarthy unearths for us to face is an accurate reflection of the backside of the benign facade of American culture. His behemoth inflated “sculptures” are less interesting than some of the creations I saw in Burning Man (2006), such as a giant Venus Fly Trap (which lit up at night… and I distinctly remember seeing a woman dancing in it, back-lit and sultry, but I may have not been entirely sober at the time).

Hope Flower and Fear Trap by Patrick Shearn, Abundant Sugar and the DoLab, Burning Man (2006).  Photo by Ryan Swift. Click image to go to his Flicker page.

The Fly Trap is wicked cool, and also shares an element of digging into the undercurrents of American culture (it smacks hard of old Sci-Fi movies, like “Day of the Triffids“), but in a way that makes being in the world more vibrant, haunting, and rife with possibilities.

Day of the Triffids, 1962

McCarthy’s work, on the other hand, is more like having your nose rubbed in soiled underwear because you’ve been a bad boy. The epic floating “Complex Shit” or the “Balloon Dog” are reminders of things most of us would probably like to tune out – feces and garbage culture – but also which there’s really no need to put a spotlight on either. Some shit, it might be better to keep buried.

UPDATE: 11.15.13

I made it!

Sigmund the Sea Monster Dong!

You can see the two side by side below.

Left, Paul McCarthy, “Balloon Dog” 2012. Right, Eric Kuns, “Sigmund the Sea Monster Dong” 2013.(this photo censored). Artist Eric Kuns upstaged McCarthy saying, “Why make a dog when you can make a dong?”


Update: November 24, 2013. Made another Goliath sculpture. This one stands in front of McCarthy’s “Complex Shit”, or did, in the West Kowloon Cultural Area.

Flly-800Kuns vs. Paul McCarthy, the giant
“Bigger Fly”, by Eric Küns. 60-feet-tall, rubber, reinforced rebar, with a submerged concrete foundation, 2013. West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong

And below is a magazine article about it.

Exhibitionist Fly vs Paul McCarthy Complex Shit Kowloon
Magazine cover and feature article about my sculpture, “Exhibitionist Fly”. Click on the image to see the high-rez, readable version.

These pieces illustrate how contemporary, Postmodern art gets its meaning through the context of galleries/museums, and reviews in art magazines that imbue it with weight and authority. This look, however, is its own aesthetic that can be mimicked without going through the proper channels and being a part of an art-system. It would be easy to criticize my doing so as simply not getting Postmodernism if it weren’t so damned Postmodern itself (or is punking Postmodernism Post-PoMo?)

Another update: If you enjoy my contemporary art parodies, check out this post, which compiles a bunch of  them, including parodies of Koons, Hirst, Banksy, and Wool.

11 replies on “Artist Paul McCarthy makes an 80 ft. balloon dog.

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