A&E Sessions–Drawing and Painting – The Brooklyn Rail
Hauser & Wirth
Paul McCarthy: A&E Sessions – Drawing and Painting
February 23 – April 10, 2021
New York, NY
The exhibition A&E Sessions bei Hauser und Wirth includes works from Paul McCarthy’s multidisciplinary project A&E, which the artist produced in improvisational performances with him and the Berlin-born German actress Lilith Stangenberg. These works, drawings, paintings, and a compilation of objects derived from the performances, including recorded sounds, serve both as documentation and as a by-product of McCarthy’s critical approach to sociopolitical-psychological issues arising from his practice of hybridization. Stangenberg, known for her remarkable performance in Frank Wedekind’s Lulu In the Berliner Volksbühne (2019) it says: “In recent years I have definitely developed a kind of longing for this extreme. I am always looking for some kind of dissolution of boundaries. “What better partner is there for McCarthy’s recent venture to hold back?
During performances, McCarthy and Stangenberg pushed and pulled each other across the surface of panels or paper laid flat on a platform while they drew, marked, smeared, erased, and added collage elements in pencil, charcoal, and peanut butter. This is reminiscent of McCarthy’s earliest horizontally made paintings, created in 1966 and 1967 when he was still a student at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. They consisted of large paintings on wooden door panels that lay flat on the floor for him to climb on. He drew on these boards, painted them with a rag only with black paint and then hit them with a hammer, transformed their surfaces, on which he then poured gasoline and burned it.
A&E is titled Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun and was written by McCarthy as a further investigation into an earlier performance relating to the sadomasochistic relationship between a former Nazi camp guard and one of his female victims that appeared in Liliana Cavani’s film The Night Porter from 1974 were depicted. In some works drawn pictures of a cartoonist Hitler appear here. Take A&E, KNEE SUCK, Santa Anita Session (2020) or A&E, EVADOOLF EVA, Santa Anita Session (2020) for example. The blue tape with which the paper is secured during a performance is still present in the framed drawings, whose scribbled words, initials, letters and collage images form open constellations of sometimes incomprehensible gestures and neologisms or, on the other hand, fleeting and graphic representations of genitals and a Scene of zoophilia. Hitler reappears in the painting A&E, CAT TOWER, Santa Anita (2019), which features a scratching post glued to the canvas just above the infamous character’s head. A&E EVA ADOLF, Tehachapi (2019) also contains found objects, in this case a chair on a table that is on the floor to the right of the painting.
In McCarthy’s faux-automatism – often a visceral and anti-rational form of the game – the barrage of unconfirmed, socialized confusion and misdirection that appears to be endemic to society on both sides of the political divide is exposed by his distinctive, absurd humor – unleashed an evil vitality. McCarthy’s formal approach and subject matter are rooted in the catastrophic upheavals of the mid-twentieth century and the reactions to it that followed. Alan Kaprow’s influential 1966 publication, Assemblage, Environments and Happenings, was a key factor in expanding the performative aspects of Ab Ex, and Jackson Pollock’s contribution in particular. At the same time, the pernicious attempts of applied psychoanalysis – Edward Bernays’ PR manipulator as a prime example – to control the psyche of the general population and its destructive tendencies were justified as an attempt to prevent a repetition of the psychopathy of the Nazi movement in America. meanwhile enable senseless consumption.
While George Grosz confronted Adolf Hitler and the Nazi threat, McCarthy targets repressive, malevolent forces of his own time, much more insidious and sophisticated, where the lines between private and public are in many ways abolished, merged and further monetized. This is made possible by our trust in ever more powerful and intrusive technologies. We cannot say that we were not warned: Martin Heidegger was appalled by the ever-alienating effects of technology, which divert us from our ability to be human and the awareness of being in the world. McCarthy experiences the things around him – tables, chairs, peanut butter, basic tools – in direct expression and play, far removed from the received ideas of myth, be it those of Adolf and Eve or Adam and Eve.