BY Max Glauner in Reviews | 03 NOV 12
Featured in
Issue 7

Paul McCarthy

Hauser & Wirth

BY Max Glauner in Reviews | 03 NOV 12

Orange Lion, 1991/5

The cuddly lion made of dirt-crusted polyester looks sad. His rusty mane is all matted, his pale face sports big, stuck-on eyes. Even if his sorry condition prompts us to credit him with a melancholic state of mind, that all changes on closer inspection. The soiled soft toy stares down between its spread legs to where its fluffy tail protrudes, penis-like, and its left paw is about to grab hold. This little chap clearly doesn’t belong in the nursery.

In 1991, the lion – a prop in Paul McCarthy’s performances – was photographed against a blue studio background and became Orange Lion (1991/95). In 1992, this photograph appeared in the book Propo along with images of over 100 other props used from 1972 to 1983. And in 1995, it reappeared as a Cibachrome print on aluminium in the sculptural installation Assortment, The Trunks, Human Object and PROPO Photographs (1972–2003). The original object spends its life with the other objects in six cases and boxes, which are all part of the Assortment … work.

Here, the photograph showed up on flyers and posters advertising the opening show at Hauser & Wirth’s new gallery space in Zurich’s Löwenbräu Complex – as an ironic mascot, fetish and implied double of the artist, all in one. Propo is a neologism based on the theatrical term ‘prop’. It also references ‘appropriation’, while the added ‘o’ opens up the added connotations of ‘proportion’, ‘proposition’ and, of course, the German colloquial term for rear end: ‘Po’. In an unprecedented and impressive attempt at completeness, the exhibition included 64 of the 124 photographs included in the eponymous book.

Visitors were greeted by a landscape format photograph, Altitude Limit Switch, SA-IA/ARN-1 (1991/2008), showing two cockpit instruments against a neutral blue ground, not unlike a straightforward photograph of a commercial product. Set to 225 feet, the devices seemed to ironically display the height from which the rest of the show might fall.

But a consistent level was maintained precisely because the series of works insistently celebrates the monotonous recurrence of the monstrously banal. In the photographs, the visibly worn objects fill the frame, regardless of their actual size, an effect further heightened by the uniformly monumental format; the flat backgrounds – blue, yellow, red, grey, a few in dark wood veneer – offer little variety.

It was easy to pass through McCarthy’s picture gallery of pandemonium: the soiled dolls, soft toys, mess tins, candy bags, make-up tubes and ketchup bottles. Their sheer size seemed to cry out for attention. There was no escape. The mostly cheap industrial products – used as artist’s props, archived as relics and put on display as monumental fetish images – dwarfed the viewer standing eye-to-eye with them. And one couldn’t help feeling that only another cycle of appropriation – the acquisition of the works themselves – would be capable of re-establishing a sense of equilibrium between them and the viewer.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Max Glauner is an author and journalist living and working in Zurich and Berlin.