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Paul McCarthy (b. 1945)
Tomato Head (Green)
fiberglass, urethane, rubber, metal, plastic, fabric and painted metal base
height: 86 in. (218.4 cm.);
installation dimensions variable
Executed in 1994. This work is one of three unique variants (Green shirt, Black shirt, Burgundy shirt).

The two other variants of Tomato Head are in the Collection of Dimitris Daskalopolous, Athens (Burgundy) and the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, Toronto (Black).
(62)
Provenance
Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1994
Literature
S. Kandel, "Paul McCarthy's Precious Bodily Fluids," Los Angeles Times, 12 May 1994, p. F. 12.
R. Rugoff, "The Garden of Uncanny Delight," Los Angeles Weekly, 13 May 1994, p. 31 (another example illustrated).
R. Rugoff, "Deviations on a Theme. Works by Paul McCarthy," Artforum , vol. 33, no. 2, October 1994, pp. 80-81 and 83 (another example illustrated in color and on the cover).
C. Temin, "'Familiar Places' at ICA: All Over the Map," Boston Globe, 28 July 1995 (illustrated).
B. Creasey, "Provocative Art Takes Center Stage," Citizen Journal, 3 August 1995, p. 11.
C. McQuaid, "Home Alone,' Boston Phoenix, sec. 3, 11 August 1995.
C. Giuliano, "Fresh Paint," Improper Bostonian, 30 August-12 September 1995 (illustrated).
W. Wilson, "Eccentric 'Glimpse' at Norton Collection," Los Angeles Times, 12 December 1995, p. F12.
S. D. Driedger, "A Passion for Art at the Cutting Edge," Maclean's, vol. 109, no. 36, 9 September 1996, pp. 50-51 (another example illustrated).
J. Villani, "Exhibit Takes Unconventional Approach," Albuquerque Journal, 22 September 1996, p. D2.
R. Rugoff, K. Stiles and G. Di Pietrantonio, eds., Paul McCarthy, London, 1996, pp. 78, 80-82, 156 and 160 (illustrated in color).
A. Gerstlet, "Art Attack," Los Angeles Magazine, November 1998, pp. 100-101 (illustrated).
J. Rosenberg, "Los Angeles--Paul McCarthy," Art + Auction, vol. 22, no. 13, November 2000, p. 202 (illustrated in color).
C. Knight, "Compellingly Sold by the Gross," Los Angeles Times, 14 November 2000, p. F6.
D. Harvey, "The McCarthy Era: The Institutionalization of Shrub Fucking," LA Weekly, 24-30 November 2000, p. 49 (another example illustrated).
M. Rush, "A Veteren For of Fakery With a Cattle-Prod Style," New York Times, 18 February 2001, p. 33 (another example illustrated in color).
G. T. Turner, "Paul McCarthy: Inside and Outside," Flash Art, vol. 34, no. 217, March-April 2001, p. 90 (another example illustrated in color).
L. Yablonsky, "Gross Point-Blank," Time Out New York, no. 285, 8-15 March 2001, p. 54 (illustrated in color).
M. Kimmelman, "Offering Beauty, and Then Proof that Life Goes On," New York Times, 30 December 2001, p. 35 (another example illustrated).
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Rosamund Felsen, Tomato Heads, May 1994.
Berlin, Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Tomato Head, February-March 1995.
Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, Currents 95: Familiar Places, July-October 1995.
SITE Santa Fe, A Glimpse of the Norton Collection as Revealed by Kim Dingle, September-November 1996, n.p.
Toronto, Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, Portraits, May 1996-March 2007 (another example exhibited).
University of California, Los Angeles, Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, Sunshine and Noir: Art in L.A. 1960-1997, October 1998-January 1999, p. 6, no. 94 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; New York, New Museum of Contemporary Art; Nice, Villa Arsom and Tate Liverpool, Paul McCarthy, October 2000-January 2002, pp. 172-173 (illustrated in color).
Stockholm, Moderna Museet; Aarhus, ARoS and Gent, S.M.A.K., Paul McCarthy: Head Shop/Shop Head, Works 1966-2006, June 2006-February 2008, pp. 19, 28-29, 406-407 and 685 (illustrated in color, another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, The Luminous Interval: D. Daskalopoulos Collection, April-September 2011, pp. 141-143 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Paul McCarthy is one of the most influential artists working in America today. Initially known for his works in which he shocked viewers with his overtly sexual performances and installations, his later work has involved exploring the myths and stereotypes of American popular culture. McCarthy lives and works in Los Angeles, a city that thrives on the selling of dreams and fantasies, and he finds a rich seam of inspiration in the consumer icons from the entertainment industry and their traversal toward a darker side of American life. In one of his most important works from the 1990s, Tomato Head (Green), McCarthy creates a life-size cartoon-like figure that explores the relationship between modern culture, consumerism, and innocence.

McCarthy plays out the allegories of a beloved and immediately recognizable cast of characters ranging from Santa Claus and Pinocchio to Mr. Potato Head and Popeye. Seemingly recognizable characters are subtly changed or adulterated to produce works that become unsettling and unnerving. Tomato Head (Green) is both a nomenclatic and visual play on the children's toy "Mr. Potato Head." Developed in 1949, the original "Mr. Potato Head" was the first toy ever to be advertised on television and has remained popular even today. This post-war children's entertainment symbolizes the beginning of a new consumer-driven era in America. McCarthy's life-size human figure with an enlarged cartoonish tomato as a head transforms a children's toy into a sinister and disturbing work of art that questions several aspects of American culture.

Much like "Mr. Potato Head,"omato Head (Green) has holes in place of eyes, nose, mouth, and ears, where various pegs affixed with these human parts could be inserted randomly to give the figure different appendages or expressions. Unlike the toy, however, there are holes in its groin and anus where pegs could also be inserted. The work suggests an ability to construct gender identity: making these changes and substitutions allows the figure to play with potential self-iterations and explore all the possible identities available to it. However, even though the figure has several items at its disposal with which to auto-configure, these are a prefabricated, predetermined set. This limitation speaks to the restricted number of identities and lifestyle choices available to individuals in normative contemporary culture. Raw, visceral, and deeply disturbing, McCarthy's work unmasks the vile, dysfunctional truth behind the American dream. Through these twisted perversions of American cultural icons, McCarthy undermines a central theme of the American ethos of equal opportunity, the American dream, which promotes the notion that one can realize oneself to the fullest regardless of origins and social status, is here invalidated through the message that society mandates one's options of choice. The idea of freedom of choice is turned on its head and questioned.

McCarthy disinters the perversions inherent in American "values" through cherished emblems of childhood, re-envisioning them in adulterated contexts with an unsettling blend of humor and horror. Innocence--specifically the sanctity of childhood--is undermined by sinister forces that are far less hallowed; and the burnished veneer of American culture crackles. This questioning of American culture is a theme that McCarthy returns to often in his oeuvre. He explores the relationship between the apparent innocence of childhood and devises a twisted representation of the two. The distorted, mangled appendages of the young boy Steven, for example, a work dating from 2007, his arms outstretched, seemingly lost and searching his way through the world, seem at odds with the happy-go-lucky figures taken from American childhood memories. This tension between what the eye sees and what the mind knows is at the very heart of McCarthy's work. Prevalent in the work of many artists of his generation, McCarthy has constantly strived to update these ideas with new treatments and materials. His later work begins to examine the nature of European fairy-tales and the central-European personification of purity, which relates to McCarthy's earlier twisted parodies of Heidi and other clichéd Swiss characters.

Over the duration of his career Paul McCarthy has become one of the most perceptive commentators on modern culture and society. The artist augments as he elaborates perceived norms of contemporary culture, taking what is already there and exaggerating their existing, and sometimes subtle, perversities. The underlying natures of his figures reveal themselves to the viewer slowly and unexpectedly, in parallel to the acculturation process that the artist decries: "Much of my work is about the initiation from innocence to culture. Its generational, meaning that blame cannot be specific. It's passed down. Where does the perception or action come from? It becomes you. You are it. Culturalized into absurdity. I'm in it, too" (Paul McCarthy, quoted in Hunter Drochojowska-Philp, The Mechanical Id, 2001, www.kunstwissen.de).

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