Description: PAUL MCCARTHY (b. 1945)
Bear and Rabbit on a Rock
mascot heads, acrylic fur, metal armature, foam rubber, formica pedestal
106 3/8 x 74¾ x 51 1/8 in. (270 x 190 x 130 cm.)
Executed in 1992.
Artist or Maker: PAUL MCCARTHY (b. 1945)
Exhibited: Bordeaux, CAPC, Musee d'Art Contemporain, Presumes Innocents, l'art contemporain et l'Enfance, June-October 2000.
Nimes, Le Carré d'Art, La part de l'autre, May-September 2002, p. 113 (illustrated).
Lausanne, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Private View 1980-2000: Collection Pierre Huber, June-September 2005, p. 195 (illustrated).
Notes: Raw, visceral, and deeply disturbing, Paul McCarthy's work unmasks the vile, dysfunctional truth behind the American dream. Based in Los Angeles, he parlays the entertainment capital into a metaphor for exploring that which lurks beneath the surface. Consumer icons of Hollywood and Disneyland become fodder for his explorations, their sanitized appearances intersecting with the dark underbelly of American life.
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McCarthy disinters the perversions inherent in American "values" through cherished emblems of childhood, re-envisioning them in adulterated contexts with an unsettling blend of humor and horror. Innocence--specifically the sanctity of childhood--is undermined by sinister forces that are far less hallowed, and the burnished veneer of American culture crackles.
Bear and Rabbit on a Rock, 1992, brings the forbidden to the fore in a comic spectacle of copulating species. Ostensibly benign, its larger-than-life cartoon characters resembling inhabitants of theme parks, the couple seems at first to be dancing in gleeful abandon. However, this impression ends when one realizes the real play between these creatures. Entering the realm of sexual taboos through the appearance of the "cute," McCarthy evokes all that is perverse without the threat that the direct address of such issues would normally invite, exposing their undeniable prevalence beneath the veil of ordinary American life.
McCarthy's genius lies in his ability to simultaneously elicit laughter and disgust from works such as Bear and Rabbit on a Rock. Establishing a strained camaraderie between such polar reactions is no simple feat, especially since his incisive observations cut beyond the dermis of discomfort to the core of established patriarchal authority. Through weird spectacle, McCarthy uncovers "simmering brutality sublimated as melodramatic kitsch." Excavating the ills of society buried deep within the ruptures of its psyche, he acts as a contemporary shaman in the tradition of Joseph Beuys, exorcising the latent urges of human nature that are sacrificed for the sake of civilization.
In Bear and Rabbit on a Rock, the exultant rabbit throws its head back as if in sexual climax, while the leering bear--presumably the source of this pleasure--grins at its own prowess. Inherently absurd in its inter-species copulation, this sculpture stages that which is actively proscribed, and therefore revolting--although the origin of such disgust is not so much the result of biological anomaly as it is of social conditioning against animalistic and literally non-productive impulses. McCarthy brings attention to the fact that the darker side of human desire does not ever disappear but instead is manifested in fetishistic forms deemed acceptable for their ostensible innocence.