Paul McCarthy

Pig Island

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.

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).

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Pig Island – L’isola dei porci is the first major exhibition in Italy by Paul McCarthy, a legendary American artist who over his long career has played a key role in the history of contemporary art.

Specially conceived for the monumental underground spaces of Palazzo Citterio, Pig Island brings together historic works, videos, and an extraordinary new installation making its world debut. A giant “total artwork”, the exhibition makes Palazzo Citterio come to life with McCarthy’s dreams and visions. Installed in a unique example of 18th-century architecture which was transformed in the ’80s, with the creation of an underground level, but has remained closed for over 25 years, Pig Island – L’isola dei porci combines the artist’s Rabelaisian works with the rawness of these unfinished spaces, immersing visitors in an enormous three-dimensional collage. Mingling Pop Art with performance, Minimalism with Walt Disney, McCarthy has invented a unique language that has been celebrated by prestigious museums around the world, such as Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Whitney Museum in New York.

Since the late ’60s, Paul McCarthy has been creating installations, sculptures and videos that explore the dark side of the American dream. Pirates, clowns, Santa Claus figures, ketchup containers, home-made avatars, guys and dolls, pigs and bottles of whisky are the toys that people McCarthy’s hypertrophic world; his exhibitions are conceived like giant theme parks that stage raving bacchanals and subtle parodies of TV serials, with various disguises that graft the commedia dell’arte tradition onto American soap operas. Like a circus ringmaster, McCarthy presents shows attended by mutant monsters and impersonations of celebrities, ranging from Alice in Wonderland to George Bush, Angelina Jolie to the Seven Dwarves.

Pig Island – L’isola dei porci brings McCarthy’s ferociously burlesque world to Milan: upon entering the show, visitors are plunged into surreal political satire with Static (Pink) (2004-2009), a pink silicone mask caught in a moment of sneering lasciviousness. In McCarthy’s universe, all hierarchies are turned on their heads: like Orwell’s Animal Farm, politics become a grotesque comedy where animals and human beings trade their roles, and chaos reigns supreme. Filmed in collaboration with his son Damon, in a production that rivals the most impressive cinematic extravaganzas, Pirate Party (2005) and Houseboat Party (2005) and F-Fort Party (2005) were created in endless performance sessions within spaces that blend amusement-park aesthetics with DYI architecture. Again, as in a Mardi Gras, the natural order of things is turned upside-down. Forts out of second-rate Westerns and ships out of Pirates of the Caribbean are peopled by characters from an adult Disneyland, who wage bizarre, frenzied battles. With wild gestures and raucous laughter, these pirates and soldiers throw themselves into violent, crass, completely unmotivated escapades, as if Viennese Actionism had encountered the fiction and glamour of Hollywood: quarts of ketchup and chocolate syrup gush from the stumps of severed arms and legs, in the surging rhythm of a fairy tale without a plot or a happy ending. In the next room, the galleon in Black Bow Bilbao (2001-2005) looks like some kind of portable theme park, the model for a set that was never built.

The Fondazione Nicola Trussardi exhibition is also an opportunity to rediscover some of Paul McCarthy’s earliest sculptures, in which the artist delves into the human body, its organs, and its flesh, in works that seem to adopt the chilliest language of Minimalism while infusing it with new urges and desires. In Chair with Butt Plug (1978), a chair—an object that is a recurring theme in art history, from Van Gogh to conceptual art—becomes a tool for exploring sexuality and presenting a bewildering new vision of the world of objects. In Ketchup Sandwich (1970), Paul McCarthy constructs a perfect cube out of glass plates that are slathered with the symbol of the American junk diet. Playing on its evocations of fast food and cheap special effects, ketchup—which in McCarthy’s world also represents a bodily fluid—also becomes a gigantic monument to be adored, a parade float, over 15 meters high, that looms above the outdoor courtyard of Palazzo Citterio in Daddies Tomato Ketchup Inflatable (2007). All the icons and symbols of today’s world crumble at the hands of McCarthy, who wields the tools of parody to expose their pettiness and hypocrisy: as in Paula Jones (2010) which mixes voyeurism and desire.

For the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi show, Paul McCarthy introduces the public to one of his most complex and ambitious works, presented here in its world debut. Pig Island (2003-2010) is an enormous accumulation of clay, metal, Styrofoam, wood, plastic, and every other possible sculptural material, forming a contemporary version of a Merzbau by Kurt Schwitters. After 7 years of growth in the artist’s studio, Pig Island fills over 100 square meters with a surreal anthology of the themes that have animated McCarthy’s career through the years. It was shipped to Milan from Los Angeles with meticulous attention, transporting every miniature scrap of plastic, every object and piece of rubbish that the artist collected in his gigantic sculpture. Displayed in this bunker dug out under the city, Pig Island turns into a giant archeological artifact; McCarthy’s masterpiece is a treasure island in reverse, where buccaneers and damsels throw themselves with abandon into wild revels, in yet another shipwreck of hope. Pig Island is a Raft of the Medusa whose characters can finally castoff their inhibitions and reveal their all-too-human nature. Like therest of the exhibition, the sculpture is swarming with dreams and nightmares; it is a journey through the subconscious of our society, amid Eros and taboos, junk piles and jujus.

Last but not least, in one of the dark chambers of Palazzo Citterio, we encounter the sinister sculpture Dreaming (2005): Paul McCarthy portrays himself naked—dreaming, or perhaps dead—in a hyperrealistic sculpture that transforms him into a mannequin, or perhaps an idol demanding worship.

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