Once upon a time, as a queen sat sewing at her window, she pricked her finger, and three drops of blood fell on the snow gathered on the ebony windowsill. As she looked at the blood she said, "Oh, how I wish I had a daughter who had skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair black as ebony." Soon after, the queen gave birth to a baby girl whose skin was white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair black as ebony. She named her Snow White. The Dwarves, The Forests is the first exhibition of sculptures to come from Paul McCarthy's recent exploration of the classic 19th century German folk tale Snow White (Schneewittchen) and of the modern reinterpretation, Disney's 1937 animated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Bronze sculptures of Disney-like dwarves comprise most of the show -- mutant ones, though, with gouged-out eyes, giant phallic noses, and bodies punctured with extra anuses and vaginas. These fractured-fairytale characters straddle the line between funny and obscene but somehow come off tinged with pathos. They were constructed first from clay and found objects before being cast in bronze, and traces of the preliminary creative efforts are left strewn about the pedestals: accumulated broken tools and such connoting the effects of time. Including the blades, brushes, knives, and chisels -- the tools of the trade -- in the compositions reveals a layer of added meaning.
Not allowing for any afterthought, a sculptor of marble can create his work sine cera; no unfortunate mis-stroke of the hammer and chisel has to be hidden with little daubs of wax and marble dust. These perfect works were called "sincere." McCarthy plays with this concept in these works by first fucking up some of our culture's most beloved and perfect icons and then redeeming them through the abstraction of bronze. For McCarthy, the dark material and patina suggests Kazimir Malevich, Ad Reinhardt, Alberto Burri, and others who struggled to break through to pure abstraction. On the one hand we might consider McCarthy somewhat arrogant to think that these enlarged toys might sit in the same stable with Malevich's Black Squares, but on closer examination of "White Snow Dwarf Head 5" (2011) and "White Snow Dwarf 6" (2010–2011), we see the themes of transience, death, and contingency that also weave their way through Malevich's Suprematist compositions. Like the Russian Constructivists, McCarthy is stuck in a non-believing world, one motivated by war and failing economies, and he is simply trying to create metaphors for escape.
He does achieve actual beauty in "White Snow and Dopey, Wood" (2011) [above], a piece carved in black walnut. Here, an avatar of innocence familiar from a million cheap collectible figurines is resurrected as a giant, sexually transcendent saint. The exquisite carving, and the sculpture's expressive posture and ecstatic facial expression, are reminiscent of Italian Baroque masterworks -- in particular Gian Lorenzo Bernini's orgasmic "Transverberation of Saint Teresa"(1647–52), as well as the German artist Tilman Riemenschneider's later manneristic works, the limewood figures. The organic qualities of the wood suggest something of the story line of the original Snow White story, with her triple-deaths and resurrections and ultimate initiation into womanhood. Offering not merely a simple riff on the horrors of pop culture, McCarthy takes us a little deeper into the darker woods of the soul. - Bradley Rubenstein
Hauser and Wirth is at 32 East 69th Street in New York, New York.
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.