Paul McCarthy's prominence was fueled by his hilarious and unsettling performances that undermined the heroism of Abstract Expressionism through abject, slapstick performances. McCarthy's messy and fluid soaked actions developed into sculptural installations and videos that extend the manic energy of their creation. He has continued, with sharp-witted humor, an assault on the vaunted institutions of the American family and culture. Constructing a topsy turvy world inflected by the lurid cacophony of the carnival midway, the artist has developed one of the most arresting and influential oeuvres of his generation.
Through exploring the psychologically fraught landscape of fantasy, McCarthy has constructed narratives that feature some of the most loved symbols of childhood and innocence. Santa Claus, Pinocchio, Heidi and Popeye have all been treated to various indignances. By subjecting these archetypes to the extremes of human experience, McCarthy lays bare the violent and libidinous Id lurking just below the surface of civil society.
Beginning in the early 1990's McCarthy created a series of figurative sculptures that comically adulterated the conventions of corporate theme park animatronic attractions and characters. In these works, McCarthy regenerated the cast-offs misfits and rejected elements of the entertainment pop-culture industry. Michael Jackson Fucked Up (Big Head) is a direct descendent of these mad-cap grotesques.
An homage as much as a literal critique, McCarthy metabolizes the iconic work by Jeff Koons, of Michael Jackson holding his pet chimpanzee Bubbles, and excretes it as his own. Altering the original material of fragile porcelain, McCarthy has executed his version of the fallen pop star in bronze. Countering the refined connotations of the metal, the undifferentiated features of the faces differentiate McCarthy's portraiture from the excess of the baroque rendering of its inspiration. The oversized head of Michael appears as it might topple over like a statue of a deposed monarch, yet is propped up with a shim. The rough hewn texture leaves the evidence of its making intact, directing our attention to the performative quality of all art making.
Having turned to the character of the preternatural adolescent in the guise of Alfred E. Newman or Pinocchio, McCarthy has in Michael Jackson seized upon a character who has attempted to create and exist in a state of permanent childhood. Jackson dedicated much of his life to regaining an imagined innocence. He built Neverland Ranch, his private amusement park named for the island in the Peter Pan stories where children never grow up, in order to live out this utopian dream, which has turned into a nightmare in light of the allegations of his sexual proclivities.
Michael Jackson Fucked Up (Big Head) reveals the fallacy of a notion of the naïve purity of youth. For McCarthy youth seems to be cobbled together, appears fragile and requires support, yet its power and promise will last millennia.