Paul McCarthy (b. 1945)
From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot whic… Read more
Paul McCarthy (b. 1945)

Mechanical Pig

Paul McCarthy (b. 1945)
Mechanical Pig
silicone, platinum, fibreglass, metal and electrical components
40 x 59 x 62in. (112 x 157 x 136cm.)
Executed in 2003-2005, this work is number three from an edition of three plus one artist’s proof
Hauser & Wirth, London.
ESSL Collection, Klosterneuburg (acquired from the above in 2006).
P. McCarthy, Pig Island 2003-2009, London 2010 (installation views in the artist's studio, illustrated in colour, unpaged).
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Paul McCarthy – LaLa Land Parody Paradise, 2005-2006, p. 120 (another from the edition exhibited; illustrated in colour pp. 121 and 123-124). This exhibition later travelled to London, Whitechapel Art Gallery.
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Where Are We Going? Selections from the François Pinault Collection, 2006 (another from the edition exhibited; installation view illustrated in colour, pp. 238-239).
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Head Shop/Shop Head, Works 1966-2006, 2006-2008, pp. 30 and 686 (another from the edition exhibited; illustrated in colour, pp. 562-563). This exhibition later travelled to ARoS, Aarhus Kunstmuseum and Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Gent.
Klosterneuburg, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, Passion for Art: 35th Anniversary of the Essl Collection, vol. II, 2007 (installation view; illustrated in colour, pp. 78-79).
Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux Arts, Comme des Bétes: Ours, chat, cochon & Cie, 2008, p. 222 (illustrated in colour, p. 112).
London, Gagosian Gallery, Crash: Homage to JG Ballard, 2010 (another from the edition exhibited).
San Francisco, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, Paul McCarthy’s lowlife slowlife, tidebox tidebook, 2010, pp. 14-24 (another from the edition exhibited).
Vienna, Essl Museum - Kunst der Gegenwart, Festival der Tiere / Festival Of The Animals, 2011, p. 243 (installation views illustrated in colour, p. 192; illustrated in colour, pp. 51, 193, 249; illustrated in colour, on the cover and illustrated in colour as a poster pull-out).
Special notice
From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot. VAT rate of 20% is payable on hammer price and buyer's premium

Brought to you by

Client Service
Client Service

Lot Essay

‘At some point I said “Oh, Pig Island... an island full of pigs and pirates.” And then I thought it should be mechanical. There could be an island with stranded mechanised pigs and pirates. So I made a model of this thing, which was a carved little island with palm trees and a bunch of little sculptures of pigs and pirates. And then I immediately started making a mechanised pig, which could breathe, like a pig lying on the beach sleeping’


A life-sized, lifelike sow lies asleep atop a raft of industrial equipment. Approach and she begins to breathe deeply and regularly. Circle her and she twitches. Her trotters kick, her mouth and snout move and her eyelids mimic the effects of REM. Walk a little further and you will see that even her tail waggles and her rectum pulsates – a not-so-subtle reminder of Paul McCarthy’s long-standing fixation with bodily functions. Executed in 2005, Mechanical Pig is a triumph of animatronic technology. The verisimilitude is exacting and yet McCarthy has purposefully left the pig’s apparatus in plain sight. He has done so out of a distrust of simulacra and a desire to unravel the allegories therein. ‘Wax figures, robotics or mechanised mannequins create this virtual reality, and you can’t tell what is real,’ he has stated. ‘It has to do with the fear of the loss of sanity. I’m not sure what this has to do with any kind of “truth,” but it’s what I chose to mimic. Or to subvert’ (P. McCarthy quoted in, G.T. Turner, ‘Inside and out: Paul McCarthy’, Flash Art, no.217, March–April 2001, accessed via

McCarthy’s interest in facsimiles shares much in common with the theories of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard whose treatise Simulacra and Simulation famously interrogates the correlation between reality, images and society. In this text Baudrillard defines ‘hyper-reality’ as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction seamlessly blend together. Baudrillard cites Disneyland as a paragon of hyper-reality and it was this same self-contained fantasy world that prompted McCarthy to create Mechanical Pig. Between 2001 and 2005 he was engaged in a project based on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ attraction at Disneyland, which became a conceptual matrix spawning a plethora of video performances, drawings, photographs and sculptures. While filming inside the ride, McCarthy noticed a vignette that depicted a drunken pirate lying with a group of pigs. The image contained a ‘strange kind of underlying perversity’ that spurred his imagination, generating the idea of an island populated with pirates engaged in bestiality: ‘At some point I said “Oh, Pig Island... an island full of pigs and pirates”. And then I thought it should be mechanical. There could be an island with stranded mechanised pigs and pirates. So I made a model of this thing, which was a carved little island with palm trees and a bunch of little sculptures of pigs and pirates. And then I immediately started making a mechanised pig, which could breathe, like a pig lying on the beach sleeping’ (P. McCarthy quoted in, A. Ellegood, ‘The Isle of Porcine Romance’, Mousse, no. 24, 10 June 2010, accessed via

Mechanical Pig took two years to create as McCarthy sought perfection, challenging his technicians to construct a complex yet extremely robust robotic structure that would last indefinitely. The results are so impressive that the pig has even excited the interest of the Disney studio itself. Yet this is not a straightforward automaton. The artist has made the pig’s movements dependent on two things: the powered armature under her silicon hide and the onlooker, whose actions trigger kinetic responses via sensors mounted around the machine pedestal. This reciprocal arrangement encourages viewers to engage spatially with the sculpture, to fully explore its three-dimensional form in the round. It also underscores art’s absolute dependence on the presence and perception of spectators.
Audience awareness plays an important role for McCarthy, who has long been interested in art as a kind of sculptural and political theatre. He is one of the most influential artists in America today, having come to prominence through his hilarious and unsettling performance work of the 1970s and 80s. These chaotic, overtly sexual and often scatological happenings lampooned polite society and took aim at the cherished stereotypes of popular culture. McCarthy lives and works in Los Angeles, a city that thrives on the selling of dreams and fantasies, and he has found a rich seam of inspiration in the entertainment industry, both in its consumer icons and production techniques. His first use of a set, and an early reference to pigs in his art, took place in 1983 with Mother Pig, a performance in which he donned a Miss Piggy mask and proceeded to violate a stuffed toy with bottles of ketchup. Pigs are of course associated with greed, slovenliness and filth. They are an animal bestowed with superior intelligence and yet have what we regard as the basest of behavioural impulses. Mother Pig amplified these anthropomorphic characteristics to extreme ends, laying bare the violent and libidinous Id lurking just below the surface of civil society.

McCarthy’s messy and fluid-soaked actions eventually developed into installations and sculptures, as he became intent on replacing his own presence with mechanised objects. Mechanised Pig is arguably the most technically sophisticated realisations of this ambition. Part of its success also lies in its innovative reinterpretation of an art historical trope. The idea of bringing sculpted forms to life is an ancient one and has been widely re-presented through the centuries – from the myths of Adam, Pygmalion, and Golem, to stories of Pinocchio, Frankenstein and that sci-fi staple, the android. Mechanical Pig similarly suggests that memetic objects can be invested with an autonomous existence. Yet McCarthy paradoxically conjures the illusion of life in this sow only to send her to sleep. He also clearly unmasks how the trick is done. This animated animal is designed to challenge the deceptions of virtual phenomena. It straddles the threshold between dream and reality and masterfully deconstructs the modern world of make-believe with McCarthy’s characteristic wit.

More from Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

View All
View All