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City of the Seekers

Giant Wooden Snow White Sculptures Subvert the Fairytale

Paul McCarthy continues his 'White Snow' oeuvre with an installation of glitchy wooden sculptures in LA.
L: Photo by Mark Woods, courtesy Hauser & Wirth LA. R: Photo by Tanja M. Laden © Paul McCarthy

In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. City of the Seekers examines how the legacy of this spiritual freedom enables artists to make creative work as part of their practices.


Paul McCarthy is a high-ranking name in the art world's roster of living legends, with an often unpredictable practice that manipulates and recontextualizes traditional media in order to reveal, expose, and critique the nuances of modern life. Throughout his more than 50-year art career, McCarthy has worked in just about every discipline within the visual arts, from painting, photography, and film, to sculpture, performance, and installation. In his latest show at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, WS Spinoffs, Wood Statues, Brown Rothkos , McCarthy tackles themes of entanglement and immersion, highlighting the notions of singularity and dissolution of identity.

WS, Bookends (2013) (photo by Genevieve Hanson, courtesy Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, © Paul McCarthy)

Paul McCarthy's White Snow is an ongoing multidisciplinary project that is a disruptive fusion of the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale and Disney's 1937 animated-feature debut. In the project's latest incarnation, nine oversized sculptures rendered in black walnut loom against a backdrop of mounted carpets, which McCarthy has dubbed Brown Rothkos, in tribute to the eponymous abstract expressionist who experimented with subtly variegated color-blocked and textured paintings. But in typical McCarthy fashion, the White Snow oeuvre has taken root and grown into something of a meandering fable of its own.

The White Snow motif first manifested about ten years ago in a videotape performance, or as McCarthy prefers to call it, an installation. (Back then, he referred to the project as White Spell.) It began with a series of drawings fashioned into an ersatz script that illustrated a performative action. After McCarthy and his son Damon debated whether to film on location in a forest, they decided to build a set that spanned 9,000 square feet, complete with 20-foot trees and a house for the dwarves that eventually came to represent the one in which McCarthy himself was raised.


WS, White Snow Dopey Dopey Head, Ten Feet (2013-2014) (photo by Tanja M. Laden, © Paul McCarthy)

During that time, McCarthy started making his Spinoffs, which have since grown to include disrupted renderings of commercial Disney figurines, scanned and designed using digital cartography, then carved using computer numerical control (CNC), reassembled, and finally hand-sanded from what were originally modestly sized blocks of wood. At 18 tons, the biggest piece in the show is Bookends. Both sides feature the prince and would-be princess on horseback, visibly dissolving into each other while mounted on what appear to be duplicating horses. Yet one side of the bookend is vertical while the other is horizontal, physically and metaphorically situating and literally "dwarfing" the viewer in a dizzying limbo between right-side-up and upside-down.

McCarthy's White Snow theme first appeared in public in a display of the drawings in 2009, which became the foundation for a collection of black bronze sculptures exhibited in Hauser & Wirth New York's 2011 exhibition The Dwarves, the Forest. Now at the gallery's new Los Angeles outpost, the White Snow concept has expanded to include the Brown Rothkos, a selection of wall hangings covered in two-part foam and spray-coated with polyurethane resin. The mountings originated on the floors of the set for the forest in White Snow in 2013 at the Park Avenue Armory, which McCarthy regularly moved and manipulated to attain a variety of further contrasting textures and layers.


WS, White Snow and Prince on Horseback, Merger, Transformation, Mutation (2015) (photo by Mark Woods, courtesy Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, © Paul McCarthy)

McCarthy was born in 1945 in Salt Lake City, UT and relocated to California in the 1960s to attend art school. In 1972, he earned his MFA from the University of Southern California, and has since continued to teach art at UCLA while having his growing body of work exhibited in institutions around the world. When asked whether there was anything about Southern California's own psychological, metaphysical, or spiritual environment that inspired him specifically, the artist simply tells Creators, "The sky. That's it. Other places don't have it. It's not like New York: they have tall buildings, so you can't see it. It's the sky, it's just the sky. It's infinity. You don't get much more spiritual than that."

WS, White Snow Flower Girl #2 (2013) (photo by Tanja M. Laden, © Paul McCarthy

Paul McCarthy: WS Spinoffs, Wood Statues, Brown Rothkos is on view at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, North A gallery from July 1 to September 17, 2017. Follow Hauser & Wirth on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and visit the gallery website here.


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