Projects 51: Paul McCarthy

June 1–July 18, 1995


Installation view of Projects 51: Paul McCarthy at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Mali Olatunji

A new video work and installation by American performance artist Paul McCarthy (b. 1945) is the subject of Projects 51: Paul McCarthy, which includes a work created specially for this exhibition in which McCarthy explores stereotypes about artists and the art world.

Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, McCarthy has been active in performance and video work, creating raw, powerful and often frenzied vignettes of Beckett-like absurdity that unveil primeval instincts and taboo gestures. Incorporating such foodstuffs as mayonnaise and hamburger meat and items including stuffed animals and dolls as “paint” and props, McCarthy’s art is irreverent and transgressive. His performances have involved impersonations, transsexuality, and parodies drawn from popular culture.

McCarthy’s work offers skewed identities, parodies of authority figures, and demented family relationships. Among his performance pieces are Meat Cake, Yum, Yum (1974), an early exploration of gender, as well as body painting with ketchup and raw meat; the Death Ship series (1981–83), featuring a protean sea captain; Bossy Burger (1991), shown as the video documentary of a crazed television cooking show exhibited on monitors adjacent to its ravaged performance set; and Heidi (1992), a video collaborative reworking of the children’s classic novel with the artist Mike Kelley. McCarthy has also transformed the frantic agitations of his performances into mechanized sculptural tableaux, as in Gardens (1991), an installation shown in “Helter Skelter” in Los Angeles (1992).

A native of Utah, now based in California, Paul McCarthy received a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute (1969), and an MFA in the interdisciplinary program in art and film from the University of Southern California (1973). His work has been exhibited widely in the United States and Europe.

Organized by Fereshteh Daftari, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture.

Projects, a series of exhibitions devoted to the work of contemporary artists, is made possible by generous grants from the Lannan Foundation, The Bohen Foundation, and The Contemporary Arts Council and The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art.


  • Projects 51 : Paul McCarthy : the Museum of Modern Art, New York, June 1-July 18, 1995 Out of print, 6 pages

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