Paul McCarthy’s Wild, Phenomenal “WS” at the Park Avenue Armory, New York


NSFW Photos Reveal Why Paul McCarthy Armory Show Is NC-17

One of the videos features a prolonged scene of Snow White fellating a camera mic.(Gothamist)


By John Del Signore in on June 18, 2013 4:27 PM

Transgressive artist Paul McCarthy has taken over the sprawling Park Avenue Armory for his largest work to date, and this one looks like a doozy. A collaboration with his son Damon McCarthy, the show, called WS, “weaves together a fantastical forest and a three-quarter-scale house modeled after McCarthy’s own childhood home, with multi-channel video projections to immerse visitors in a world of fantasy and depravity.” How depraved is it? Well, one tipster tells us the video features Snow White “rolling around in the kitchen naked covered in chocolate and sprinkles while McCarthy video tapes her with no pants and his wang out.” Sorry kids, no one under 17 admitted.

WS is a true Gesamtkunstwerk,” says Alex Poots, Artistic Director of the Armory. “It is an overwhelming creation born out of the original Brothers Grimm fairytale and the subsequent popular interpretations that became iconic American symbols in the 20th century. Going far beyond the confines of the story, it explores the vast and at times distressingly dark corners of the human psyche.”

WS is an evolving work-in-progress which will continue to change during the course of the exhibit, which opens to the public tomorrow and continues through August 4th. The first thing you’ll see upon entering the drill hall is a massive artificial forest filled with towering 30-foot tall trees and colorful, oversized flowers that extend across a raised lush landscape. Nestled at the center of the installation is an 8,800-square foot yellow ranch-style (haunted?) house (a three-quarter-scale exact replica of McCarthy’s childhood home), where the project’s video performances were filmed. According to the Armory’s press materials:

Surrounding the installation, large-scale video projections feature scenes from a subversive and explicit alternative fairytale in which the character Walt Paul—played by McCarthy as an amalgam of himself and the archetypes of a movie producer, artist, father and other roles—cavorts with a cast of characters including White Snow, a figure who represents both the archetypal virgin and vixen, a daughter as well as a fairytale princess. Dwarves, the Prince, and doubles for Walt Paul and White Snow are part of the action. Drawing loosely upon the classic story and interweaving references to the history of art, the performance becomes a bacchanal.

The Park Avenue Armory is located at 643 Park Avenue (at 67th Street). Admission to WS is $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors

(James Ewing)
(Joshua White)
(James Ewing)
(James Ewing)
(James Ewing)

(James Ewing)

(James Ewing)
(Joshua White)
(Joshua White)
(Joshua White)
(Joshua White)



June 23, 2013 10:00 pm

Paul McCarthy: WS, Park Avenue Armory, New York – review

By Ariella Budick

The artist who has built his career on disgust ups the ante with his new installation
Paul McCarthy's 'WS'©James EwingPaul McCarthy’s ‘WS’

I skipped breakfast before visiting Paul McCarthy’s monster installation “WS”, which turned out to be a good idea.

In the great drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory, I wandered through an immense jungle of towering turd-like trees and psychedelic flowers, my eyes constantly drifting up to gruesome video tableaux playing out on giant screens. Feeling like a horror-film character whose every movement is tracked by screeching music, I came upon a replica of the lemon yellow cottage in Salt Lake City where McCarthy grew up, and found it suspiciously normal. Sure enough, right nearby, a film set that mimicked the house’s interior, down to the tackiest detail, was strewn with extremely convincing corpses and littered with the detritus from a marathon bacchanal. The walls were smeared with red goop, the carpeting stained with mystery fluids. The whole scene stank of sweat, liquor and rotten vegetables. All around, the Armory’s vast, darkened interior rattled with screams and grunts. I felt myself gag.


McCarthy delights in arousing revulsion. He has built an entire career on disgust, cheerfully grossing out even the most jaded sophisticates. (The Armory treats “WS” like an explicit movie, restricting admission to visitors aged 17 and over.) His performances feature cartoon and fairy-tale characters who come to life and regress into the glop-loving antics of overgrown toddlers, slathering themselves with ketchup, thrashing and humping each other. They plunge prosthetically-enhanced faces into bowls of chocolate syrup or shove sticky things between their legs.

To prevent this perpetual circus of perversion from getting old, McCarthy keeps upping the ante. “WS” stands for White Snow, and his twisted take on Snow White is his biggest, trippiest Weirdworld yet. He has transformed the hall into an adult theme park, a pornographic para-Disneyland that tips up the boulder of consumer romance to expose the slime underneath.

In previous installations, he has taken on Rocky, Heidi and Pinocchio, so Disney is ripe for his brand of psychotic critique. “WS” is the latest sally in what he calls a “program of resistance” against the totalitarian nature of American pop culture. His idiosyncratic perversions spit in the eye of an entertainment conglomerate that strives to homogenise taste.

“Disneyland is so clean,” he has said. “Hygiene is the religion of fascism. The body sack, the sack you don’t enter, it’s taboo to enter the sack. Fear of sex and the loss of control; visceral goo, waddle waddle.” McCarthy blasts holes in the orderly cuteness of commercialised childhood mythology. He sullies what Disney has sanitised, hauling old fairy tales back to their deeply scary roots.

Others no doubt share his disenchantment with mass-produced, candy-coloured fairy tales. Some might even express it by retreating into an internet subculture and seeking out like-minded grumblers all over the world. McCarthy not only takes his iconoclasm public; he makes it the animating principle of his very profitable work.

After years of art-world obscurity, McCarthy hit it big in the 1990s and he’s been nurturing his prestige ever since. His cathartic rites of defilement have accrued quantifiable cachet: one piece sold at Christie’s for $4.5m in 2011. The market loves it when he talks dirty.

McCarthy is fluent in artspeak and deft at playing the establishment’s game. Subverting, transgressing, reinterpreting, critiquing – he does it all, thereby reassuring collectors and curators that they can express their personal independence of vision by supporting him. He has convinced decision-makers that his dripping mayhem is really analytical, detached and mordantly political. Yet all this intellectual posturing merely serves as a cover for primal, Dionysian impulses. At its best, McCarthy’s work can be unpleasant but urgent, plumbing the most primitive and brutal crevices of our collective psyche. He pokes at the savagery lurking somewhere in all of us.

Perhaps even McCarthy has lost his passion for these provocations. At the Armory, he seems to be going through the motions, dutifully trying to outrage whomever is left to shock. The seven-hour multichannel video chronicles a dinner party as it degenerates into murderous violence and manic squalor. He plays “Walt Paul”, a dapper fellow representing a range of authoritarian archetypes: Walt Disney, or any more generic corporate chieftain, a domineering father, God. The character of Snow White also comes with a cloud of implied labels: seductress, muse, victim, daughter, wife, mother. Layered on top of this jumbled psychodrama is pseudo-biblical narrative, in which the phallic fake woods stand in for the Garden of Eden, and Snow White takes on yet another symbolic role as a capitalist Eve avidly gobbling up the poisoned apple. It doesn’t take long to lose patience with this tangle of myths and allegories.

Winding through the labyrinthine installation, beset by mumbled incantations and strangled screams, I found myself wondering why the Armory, one of New York’s newest and most appealing cultural destinations, would commit its resources and its reputation to this bloated horror. “WS” is the first visual arts project presented by its new artistic director, Alex Poots, and it is contrived to court controversy. A shrill chorus of moral guardians has predictably joined in: the New York Post is desperately trying to revive the dormant culture wars of 20 years ago, using flammable phrases like “demented, debauched and just plain dirty”.

Those adjectives aren’t wrong, but they’re beside the point. The shocker is not the flesh or the fluids; it’s that McCarthy’s private obsessions are no more interesting than anyone else’s, even when they are blown up to imperial scale.

On view until August 4,


ny observer


Naked Ambition: Paul McCarthy Takes the Park Avenue Armory

‘WS’ brings the Drill Hall into brave new territory

By Zoë Lescaze 6/19 7:00pm


5362_2_PAA_Paul_McCarthy_WS_JamesEwing-9506 CAP

Paul McCarthy, ‘WS,’ 2013. (Courtesy the artist and the Park Avenue Armory. Photo by James Ewing)

If you harbor childhood memories of Snow White and would prefer their innocence remains intact, avoid the Park Avenue Armory this summer. A few minutes inside “WS,” artist Paul McCarthy’s staggering new project, which opened there earlier today, will be enough to make you never look at Dopey the same way again.

If, however, the prospect of spelunking through the weirdest corners of Mr. McCarthy’s subconscious—a Boschian realm that lays bare the sinister side of fairy tales, subverts American domesticity with unhinged humor, and involves enough debauched sexuality to send any mental-health professional screaming from the room—appeals, get to the Drill Hall.

“Let’s be real, it’s an extremely, extremely rough film,” said the Armory’s consulting curator, Tom Eccles, as he smoked a cigarette outside the building following a press preview on Tuesday morning. The main video component of “WS,” which is projected on eight billboard-size screens, retells the story of Snow White over the course of seven hallucinatory hours during which Walt Disney (played by Mr. McCarthy) parties with the titular maiden and her seven diminutive friends. It’s highly sexual, but not about satisfaction as much as it is about delirium and, in Mr. Eccles’s words, “the denial of sex.”  The enormous space, floored with carpets from Disney hotels, echoes with wild shrieks and howls as the characters fellate balloon animals, cover one another in condiments and bang out drum solos on metal pots and pans.

The video was filmed in an exact three-quarter-scale replica of Mr. McCarthy’s childhood home and in a massive manmade forest featuring grotesque 30-foot trees, both of which are installed in the center of the Drill Hall. Small side rooms house additional screens (and additional content warnings), due to their especially graphic nature, while other rooms throughout the Armory feature models of the installation, other videos such as the dendrophila-filled White Snow Mammoth and a “Walt Paul” store brimming with Snow White merchandise—wigs, water bottles, kitsch figurines and posters signed by Mr. McCarthy.

“This is Paul McCarthy without stops,” said Rebecca Robertson, president and executive director of the Armory, as she stood in front of the installation.  “He’s put himself out there 100 percent and I think it matters to him how it’s perceived and the effect that it has. I think it’s risky in that way.”

The Armory, led by Artistic Director Alex Poots, Visual Arts Curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Mr. Eccles, commissioned “WS” last April without knowing exactly what direction it would take. “I think there was always a question with the work, how graphic it would become,” said Mr. Eccles. “That was an unknown.” Three hundred hours of video and millions of dollars later, the result is like nothing the Armory has presented before.

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Paul McCarthy, ‘WS,’ 2013. (Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by Joshua White)

Mr. Eccles said he was personally shocked by parts of the project. “I’ve never seen a man masturbating before. You know? Or certainly not with a dummy,” he said, referring to one video, The Prince Comes, that involves Prince Charming interacting with a silicone life cast of Elyse Poppers, an actress who plays White Snow and who has worked with Mr. McCarthy on numerous other projects (including “Rebel Dabble Babble,” which opens at Hauser & Wirth tomorrow night). Despite the sexual content, both Armory staff and members of Mr. McCarthy’s studio stated that nothing was censored nor deemed inappropriate for the venerable institution.

“Just because it’s darker doesn’t mean it’s not valid,” said Ms. Robertson. “It may be difficult—really difficult—but I think that artists have been depicting hell since art began, and this is a very contemporary version of it.”

The process of making “WS” extended well beyond the edges of the forest for Mr. McCarthy and his team. “Even in his studio, in meetings, he was in character. The whole meeting!” said Mr. Obrist, talking rapidly over the videos playing around him. Ms. Poppers and another young woman, both wearing black wigs, red lipstick and primary-color princess dresses, danced across a nearby screen.

“White Snow was there,” chimed in Ms. Robertson excitedly. “She was making balloon dogs, and I have this beautiful picture of Hans-Ulrich, and we’re trying to have a meeting, and she’s putting the balloon dogs on top of his head and saying ‘Oh! How interesting! Oh! How controversial!’”

“It was a very good meeting,” said Mr. Obrist nodding. He said that, like nearly everything in Mr. McCarthy’s studio, it was filmed from multiples angles.

“We got cut; we’re not in the movie,” said Ms. Robertson sounding just a trifle disappointed.

On the screen directly above her, the bacchanalian fête continued to unfold. One of the dwarves crawled around the model living room wearing nothing but a canary yellow UCLA sweatshirt. He paused near the sofa, sniffing it with his bulbous prosthetic nose, and pantomimed urinating like a dog. Soon Mr. McCarthy, dressed in a tuxedo, was doing the same.

“We’ve all been to parties like this where we don’t know if we look like this because we’re too drunk,” said Ms. Robertson.

At the VIP opening that night, visitors circled the reconstructed ranch house, peering through windows and holes cut in the walls at the aftermath of the filming—unmade beds, empty whiskey bottles, naked sculptures of Mr. McCarthy and Ms. Poppers, a kitchen strewn with Campbell’s soup cans, ketchup and chocolate syrup. While a few ruffled viewers could be seen hastily leaving—“This is outrageous!” whispered one woman—most looked transfixed as they watched the strange performance unfold.

“It’s a machine for altering consciousness,” said Mr. McCarthy at a low-key after party, which was held at a nearby bar, where cast members and studio staff ate sliders and ceviche. “Resistance,” he said, “is important.”



Here’s Snow White. Don’t Bring the Kids.

Brian Harkin for The New York Times

Visitors take in Paul McCarthy’s “WS” at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan. The work is based on “Snow White,” but visitors must be over 17.

Published: June 19, 2013 65 Comments

In the five years since it converted itself into a contemporary art hall, with one of the largest open exhibition floors in the world, the Park Avenue Armory has helped realize several gargantuan and difficult projects. The Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto remade the space into a science-fiction spider web, swathing it with thousands of feet of Lycra. Ann Hamilton installed swings from the trusses, turning visitors into participants in an ethereal moving sculpture.

Brian Harkin for The New York Times

A seven-hour video of performances shot in and around a massive set is part of the work.

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But until now the Armory has never taken on work with quite the same kind of difficulties presented by that of Paul McCarthy, a revered Los Angeles video artist and sculptor. For his exhibition that opened on Wednesday — “WS,” a retelling of the Snow White story — the Armory, which has developed a reputation as a family-friendly destination, made the unusual decision, with Mr. McCarthy’s agreement, to restrict visitors to those over 17. And even for adult visitors, the Armory has built a virtual phalanx of warnings: advisories about the show’s graphic content on its Web site, on placards in front of its large oak doors, and inside the building before the entry to the exhibition itself.

“I think that if you’re prepared for it, you’re going to get a lot out of this,” said Rebecca Robertson, the Armory’s president and executive producer. “So I wanted the warnings to be 100 percent visible, for no one to miss them.”

This, in other words, is the Armory’s signal that it does not intend to shy away from controversial work. Mr. McCarthy’s creation is decidedly not Disney’s version of the fairy tale. Composed of a massive forest-and-house set, accompanied by a seven-hour video of performances shot in and around the set — it is meant to be an apotheosis of the dark and deeply human themes he has been exploring for four decades concerning the body, social repression, consumerism, sex, death, dreams and delirium, and the power of art to deepen our understanding of life.

Compared with Mr. McCarthy, even much of the contemporary art world can seem puritanical and hygienic. And in “WS” — short for “White Snow” — he has, if anything, pushed his own boundaries. The video narrative and related videos secluded to the side of the main exhibition include plentiful nudity, of both sexes, along with scenes of urination and men masturbating to orgasm, not to mention highly unorthodox use of processed foods. The story also includes gory violence that is no less jarring for using Hollywood techniques like fake blood and sculptural body doubles.

Mr. McCarthy — who performs in the piece as a Disney-like character called Walt Paul — describes the work as partly a “caricature and parody” of Disney’s “Snow White.” But as in previous works where he has used beloved childhood figures like Santa, Heidi and Pinocchio, the characters and story serve mostly as a jumping off place for his phantasmagoric explorations, which mixes repulsion with grim beauty, like Goya’s depictions of war or scenes from Pasolini films.

“Let’s don’t beat around the bush: this is very, very tough work,” said Tom Eccles, a curatorial adviser for the project, speaking about the piece at a preview on Tuesday, along with the exhibition’s curators, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Alex Poots, the Armory’s artistic director. In taking on the project, Mr. Eccles said, he believed the Armory was announcing its seriousness as an international art venue, a supporter of large-scale work for a broad general audience but also of other kinds of work that carry the risk of shock.

Complaints about the piece did not take long to arrive. An opinion column Wednesday in The New York Post argues that a work with content unsuitable for those under 17 should not be presented in a venue that has received taxpayer money. (Though most of the money for the Armory’s restoration into a cultural center has come from private donors, it has received $47 million from the city and the state.)

“Maybe the taxpayers will love the Armory spectacle to which they can’t take their children today,” the columnist, Seth Lipsky, wrote. “But what about those who don’t and are even deeply offended; why should they have to subsidize it?”

Ms. Robertson said she saw the situation as analogous to the production of movies, which receive tax subsidies and other support from cities and states for work that is often not suitable for minors. “I think we did what movies do,” she said Wednesday, shortly before the exhibition opened. “It’s a clear and effective way to tell people about the content and who it’s appropriate for.”

Few exhibitions in public or quasi-public institutions in New York have included content quite as adults-only as “WS.” In 2010, the Marina Abramovic retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art featured naked performers, along with highly visible warning signs, but minors were not prevented from viewing the exhibition. Nor were they prevented from viewing “Sensation,” the 1999 show at the Brooklyn Museum that prompted Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani to threaten to cut city subsidies to the museum because of what he described as “sick” works on view. (The museum cautioned that visitors under 17 should be accompanied by parents.)

Ms. Robertson said that she and the Armory’s board had engaged in long discussions about the responsible way to show Mr. McCarthy’s work. “Our lawyers are quite good at this,” she said, adding that the late-1980s legal controversy over the sexually explicit photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe had served as a backdrop for discussions. (Michael Ward Stout, the president of the New York-based Mapplethorpe Foundation and estate, is one of the Armory’s lawyers.)

“In the human condition there are dark corners,” Ms. Robertson said, “and Paul explores those.”

She added: “I think some people are going to be outraged when they see it, but many people are not going to be, and they’re going to think it’s one of the most powerful works of art they’ve ever seen.”

A version of this article appeared in print on June 20, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Here’s Snow White. Don’t Bring the Kids..




Paul McCarthy’s Princess:
Elyse Poppers Stars in the Artist’s New Show at the Park Avenue Armory

by Mark Guiducci

Paul McCarthyPhoto: Courtesy of Paul McCarthy and Damon McCarthy and Hauser & Wirth

The first thing one sees upon entering WS, Paul McCarthy’s overwhelming installation that opens today at the Park Avenue Armory, is not the primeval, plastic forest, lushly lit from above in teal and fuchsia and yellow. Nor is it any of the various interior scenes that look like film sets hit by a natural disaster. Those come later. First, one notices the exhibition’s other visitors, who inevitably stare, awestruck and often mouth agape, at the video projected on the walls above.

Snow White, a brunette who would be classically beautiful if it weren’t for her grotesquely protuberant nose, is defiling herself. A few minutes later, she is naked on a bed while “dwarves”—nine rather than seven, ranging in size from under four feet to over six feet—surround her, moaning incoherently. Later, the gang is joined by Walt Paul (played by McCarthy himself playing Walt Disney with a Hitler mustache) and together they all but destroy the set—a replica of the artist’s childhood home. The film’s entire narrative, edited by McCarthy’s son Damon, comprises no less than seven hours of tape on four screens. As New York’s Jerry Saltz said at last night’s opening, “[McCarthy]’s going all the way.”

White Snow is a parody,” according to Elyse Poppers, the Los Angeles-based actor who plays the titular character in McCarthy’s film. (There are three White Snow characters in all, but Poppers is the principal.) Over breakfast a few weeks before the opening, Poppers said that White Snow “is an amalgamation of the Disney princesses that have become ubiquitous in our culture. . .She is a muse, a wife, a mother, and. . .” Poppers adds, “an actress.” Which is to say that Poppers may, in part, be playing herself.

Paul McCarthyPhoto: Joshua White

Poppers was raised surrounded by art. Her grandfather, a New York appraiser, specialized in shipwrecks and was once commissioned to value the remnants of the Titanic. Poppers’s mother was also an appraiser. After completing an undergraduate degree with a focus in art history—“I studied Paul in college”—Poppers fell into the family business before working for a personal investigator, specializing in cases of stolen artwork. The a-ha moment for Poppers’s acting career only happened later, when she was in the process of being recruited to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s art fraud squad. “It sounds so crazy, but it’s completely true,” Poppers says. Around that time, she had a close encounter with a shootout between rival gangs while walking home from work in her San Francisco neighborhood. The incident left an innocent German tourist dead and Poppers reconsidering her career path.

“I started to think about creativity again,” Poppers explained. “I had always thought of myself as someone who wrote about art and loved being around art, but never as an artist. So I bought tons of art supplies and, basically, started trying everything.” She finally fell upon acting, her “first love,” and auditioned for McCarthy like at any other casting call.

Two years later, Poppers has worked with the artist on three different projects—enough to consider her McCarthy’s latest muse. First came Rebel Dabble Babble, which originated as a contribution to James Franco’s 2012 Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles show based on the 1955 classic film Rebel Without a Cause and has since been expanded into a standalone work (that film debuts at Hauser & Wirth’s West 18th Street location June 20). Soon after, McCarthy approached Poppers about posing for Life Cast, a series of sculptures currently on view at Hauser’s uptown location on 69th Street. The silicone casts, which also employ paint, hair, wood, and glass, figure Poppers’s nude body in various positions so realistically that it’s hard to remember it’s not real.

In a way, White Snow, or WS, makes us feel privy to McCarthy’s darkest, strangest thoughts. “The piece has the logic of a dream, the unconscious,” Poppers says. “And like a dream it is about unfulfilled desire.” One can only imagine she is referring to McCarthy’s unfulfilled desires, many of which could not be published here. Nonetheless, Poppers is ready for more and intimates that she and McCarthy have plans to work together again. Citing Tilda Swinton and Terrence Malick as artists she would be thrilled to someday collaborate with, Poppers concedes that she’s “been spoiled by Paul and Damon because I have more freedom as an actor than I’ve ever had in a Hollywood context.” Despite her very few credits on, Poppers revealed that this is actually her second time playing Snow White. “When I started acting class,” Poppers says with a laugh, “I met someone at an art opening who had a children’s party business who was looking for a part-time princess. And I was looking to make some extra money.”

June 19, 2013 5:00p.m


2 thoughts on “Paul McCarthy’s Wild, Phenomenal “WS” at the Park Avenue Armory, New York

  1. The “ribald, pop-culture-obsessed provocateur” (The New York Times) Paul McCarthy applies his signature, irreverent wit to take aim at American myths and icons in WS, his largest work to date and the pinnacle of his creative output. Adding a touch of malice to subjects that have been traditionally revered for their innocence or purity, McCarthy weaves together a massive, fantastical forest of towering trees with grotesque video projections of iconic characters playing out their own fairy tale drama in a replica of his childhood home.

  2. Pingback: » ["Culture"] L’affaire du Godemiché place Vendôme (+ Expo rien que pour vous, +18)

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