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New York, 22nd Street

Paul McCarthy
A&E Sessions – Drawing and Painting
23 Feb – 10 Apr 2021

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Central to the exhibition is a series of large-scale drawings from McCarthy’s most recent multi-disciplinary project ‘A&E.’ Created by the artist during improvised performances involving himself and German actor Lilith Stangenberg, these works serve as documentation of both McCarthy’s incisive critical lens and his practice of synthesizing performance, film, painting, drawing, sculpture, and sound.

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In 1966 and 1967 while still a student at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, the city of his birth, Paul McCarthy began making large paintings on wooden door panels. He painted them flat on the ground and would climb on top of them. He drew on the panels and painted them not with a brush but with a rag, using black paint. He then pounded on them, beating them with a hammer or a board, effacing the surface. In the end, he poured gasoline on the paintings and threw a match on them, burning the panels black, making flayed wreckage that looked as if it had been transposed from the war then raging in Vietnam. In 1969, all but three of these works, which came to be known as McCarthy’s ‘black paintings,’ were fully burned and buried.

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In the five-plus decades since his black paintings, McCarthy has continued to combine performance and mark- making with an additional complementary element – documentation of the performances and the pieces derived from them, a process that has become more obsessive and more extensive with each production, yielding a massive accumulation of video recordings, audio recordings, and still photographs.

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Two years ago McCarthy’s studio, in collaboration with McCarthy’s son, Damon, shot NV Night Vater, shot over a 30-day period, McCarthy plays a character named Max, an aging Hollywood producer obsessed with fascism and control. Lilith Stangenberg plays a young actress from Berlin who comes to Los Angeles to audition for a film being made by Max. The plot provided a skeletal structure for McCarthy and Stangenberg to enter through performance into a realm of psychological exclusion and masochism. At the conclusion of shooting, McCarthy and Stangenberg made a decision to go further into the subject and to film in nature, in a forest.

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‘We thought, ‘Why don’t we go straight to the quintessential characters of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun?’’ McCarthy says. ‘I began working on the script for this piece, which we decided to call A&E in 2019. Often what I do as an artist is a regurgitation of a vile substance, the black in the bottom of the glass. The title A&E is an abbreviation of Adolf and Eva and also of Adam and Eve, two cultural cliché polarities. A&E can also stand for ‘arts and entertainment.’ All three references function as human cultural signifiers. We were going to start production on A&E in August of 2020, and we now hope to shoot the film in summer 2021.’

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‘A&E Sessions Drawing and Painting,’ the work on view in McCarthy’s new exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, is the result of two marathon sessions of drawing, painting and performance by McCarthy and Stangenberg – McCarthy as Adolf/Adam and Stangenberg as Eva/Eve. The first session, in 2019, took place outdoors in the lower Sierra mountains north of Los Angeles. The second session, in March 2020, occurred in the McCarthy Studio, the former studio of Jason Rhoades and Rachel Khedoori in Los Angeles.

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McCarthy’s recursive performance-in-character-drawing as an intentional method dates back as far as 1981, when he performed as a sea captain in Death Ship at the Artemisia Gallery in Chicago and again in 1982, when he created five large-scale drawings at the Exile Gallery in Los Angeles based on small drawings from a 1975 performance and video, Sailor’s Meat, Sailor’s Delight. During the 1982 re-drawing sessions on the gallery floor, McCarthy recalls, ‘I was talking constantly as I was drawing – it was an action. I was by myself. The drawing action went on for several days.’

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‘There always seems to be a looping, a circling back into the subject again and again,’ McCarthy says of all the work he has done since those days. ‘There are drawings I’ve made now from the photographs and video recordings of the A&E drawing sessions that Lilith and I did.’ Performance intertwined with drawing and painting, then further intertwined with documentation and filmmaking that leads back to drawing and painting, forms an obsessive mis-en-abyme layering of work that becomes performative in itself.

‘In the 70s there might have been a few dozen images and one or two half-hour or hour-long videos of a performance. Now there can be more than 150,000 images of one project and terabytes of video recordings. It’s like I’m piling imagery on top of imagery. It’s accumulation on top of accumulation. Most of it will never be seen. It’s a wormhole. A pleasure tunnel with no light at the end.’—Paul McCarthy

About the artist

Paul McCarthy is widely considered to be one of the most influential and groundbreaking contemporary American artists. Born in 1945, and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, he first established a multi-faceted artistic practice, which sought to break the limitations of painting by using unorthodox materials such as bodily fluids and food. He has since become known for visceral, often hauntingly humorous work in a variety of mediums – from performance, photography, film and video, to sculpture, drawing and painting.

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