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The Flesh of Paul McCarthy

A standout among the Berlin Art Week 2015 happenings is Paul McCarthy's solo exhibition at the Schinkel Pavilion. At times uncomfortable, eerie, and all at once compelling, I found myself in the back of the room with the feeling of having crashed a funeral.

With the human body as a central theme, McCarthy forces viewers to participate in a voyeuristic process of objectification while questioning the role of the artist. Naked bodies become objects of curious inspection, flesh on display in its most vulnerable state, while exhibition goers leer with drinks in hand.

Entering the downstairs space in Schinkel Pavilion, we encounter McCarthy’s sculptural video installation, “That Girl T.G. Drawing Table – Drawing” (2011 – 2013). In a round room, raw with the appearance of being under renovation, TV screens are spaced evenly against the wall and a wooden table stands in the center of the room. Playing on each screen are videos of a man’s hand (presumably the artist’s) tracing a naked woman while she sits in various positions on a table. Upon closer examination it’s clear that the table in the middle of the room, covered in silvery lines of graphite, is that from the videos. The pencil outlines recall where the model’s naked body sat, physically marking the transformation from woman to object at the hand of the artist. Every few minutes the woman laughs in the video, echoing strangely through the room, and reminding us as viewers of our voyeuristic participation in her objectification.

Moving upstairs was a difficult feat on opening night. Drinks in hand, jostling for a position in line, we all waited our turn to enter the main room. Finally admitted, we are confronted by the artist himself in “Horizontal” (2012). A hyper-realistic synthetic cast of McCarthy’s naked body lies on a table in the center of the room. From the wiry grey hairs of his eyebrows to his flaccid penis and the drooping flesh of his thighs, the body has been so carefully and realistically rendered in silicone that I check for signs of breathing.

Compelled by the intimacy of this vulnerable body on display, we circle the table like vultures. Someone tries to take a photograph and is reprimanded by the gallery monitors. The Schinkel Pavilion becomes transformed by McCarthy’s installation into a sort of funeral hall for the audience to pay their respects to a lifeless image of the artist. Perhaps a play on Barthes’ infamous essay, “The Death of the Author”, the presence of the artist seems greater than ever in an ironic rendering of the death of the artist. We pay respects to the “dead” artist who has objectified himself, memorialized himself, stripped himself bare to the public and called it art.

Check it out for yourself:

Berlin Art Week 2015

Paul McCarthy at the Schinkel Pavillion

September 12 - November 15, 2015 Opening Reception September 11, 2015

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