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Exhibitions / Pig Island / Overview

Palazzo Citterio, Milan
May 20  – July 4, 2010

Pig Island is the first major solo show in an Italian institution by legendary American artist Paul McCarthy, who has been invited to conceive a project for Palazzo Citterio—one of the most extraordinary places in the city of Milan, located right in the city’s historical center on Via Brera, yet unknown to the public, as it has been closed for over 25 years, reopened thanks to the collaboration of Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici e per il Paesaggio di Milano.

Paul McCarthy is a true contemporary master who has achieved a key role in art history over his decades-long career. Combining minimalism and performance, Walt Disney and George W. Bush, McCarthy has used the human body, with all its desires and taboos, to create a unique, irreverent, and satirical language that combines Pop Art with fairy tales, the nightmares of the daily news with universal archetypes. McCarthy’s videos, performances, installations and sculptures transport visitors to a universe that combines Hollywood glamour with the dark side of the American dream

See the exhibition opening on YouYube

Pirates, clowns, Santa Claus puppets, home-made avatars, and mutant monsters populate McCarthy’s theater. Ketchup bottles, cans of food, mechanized pigs and cast body parts pop up in his exhibitions like the remnants of some bad dream. McCarthy’s shows are conceived as giant theme parks that stage raving bacchanals. Like a circus ringmaster, McCarthy constructs exhibitions in which celebrities impersonators interpret deranged parodies of movies, or in which Mickey Mouse and Snow White are caught in bestial acts of regression.

For the exhibition with Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Paul McCarthy presents one of his most complex and ambitious works, Pig Island, a giant sculpture that grew in the artist’s studio to fill over 100 square meters with a surreal anthology of the themes that have cropped up throughout his career. The installation Pig Island is a carnivalesque amusement park in which human beings behave like pigs. A treasure island in reverse, Pig Island is a sculptural shipwreck in which pirates and their heroines throw themselves with abandon into wild revels. The installation is a contemporary Raft of the Medusa: its characters can finally cast off their inhibitions and reveal their all-too-human nature. Pig Island is a work-in-progress that Paul McCarthy has been developing for over seven years, and which will make its world debut at Palazzo Citterio with Fondazione Nicola Trussardi.

The piece—accompanied by a selection of McCarthy’s work from 1970 to 2010—is installed in one of the grandest examples of contemporary architecture in Milan: still completely hidden to the public, and left in a state of disrepair, this building will be unveiled for the first time on this occasion.

The show explores an underground bunker carved out beneath the city, where one finds the archeological artifacts of a Never-Never-Land: Pig Island combines Paul McCarthy’s hypertrophic, Rabelaisian works with the rawness of a gigantic, endless work-in-progress. 

Palazzo Citterio is an aristocratic residence located in the historic center of Milan, on Via Brera. It dates back to the second half of the 18th century, and was purchased by the Italian state at the request of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage in the ‘70s, to be used for exhibitions and cultural events as an extension of the Pinacoteca di Brera. After an initial renovation, the project came to a halt until the mid’80s, when a new design was prepared by British architect James Stirling, who had been engaged to create a modern museum inside the palazzo to expand the Pinacoteca. Work was repeatedly interrupted due to legal disputes with the neighbors and complex developments regarding the intended use of the complex. The original, well-preserved sections of the 18th-century building include the facades, with their elegant balconies overlooking Via Brera, the internal porticoed courtyard, the vaulted cellars, and the rooms on the piano nobile; Stirling’s design was only implemented in the underground spaces, which remain in a rough, unfinished state, yet clearly show the distinctive stylistic and spatial approach of this great British architect.
On November 24, 2008, a memorandum of understanding regarding the conservation and promotion of Milanese cultural heritage was signed by the City of Milan, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Culture. Its main focus was to re-launch the Brera by expanding the Pinacoteca to Palazzo Citterio, as part of an overall strategy of cultural development for the city of Milan in preparation for EXPO 2015 . This exhibition—which opens the doors of this prestigious building for the first time in over 25 years is a valuable opportunity to introduce the general public to a little-known treasure.

Paul McCarthy (born in Salt Lake City, 1945) lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Over his long career he has exhibited at the world’s most prestigious museums, including MOCA Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (2000), Tate Modern in London (2003), Haus der Kunst in Munich (2005), the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2008), Moderna Museet in Stockholm (2006), the Whitechapel Gallery in London (2005), Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart in Berlin (2008) and the John Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (2008). The American artist has also taken part in the leading contemporary art festivals, including the Venice Biennale (four times: in 2001, 1999, 1995 and 1993), the Whitney Biennial in New York (three times: in 2004, 1997and 1995), the Berlin Biennale (2006), the Santa Fe Biennial (2004), the Lyon Biennale (2003) and the Biennale of Sydney (twice: in 2010 and 2000).