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Exhibition: Paul McCarthy, WS, Park Avenue Armory, New York

Paul McCarthy White Snow

Paul McCarthy White Snow

Paul McCarthy, WS, Exhibition View, 2013

Paul McCarthy, WS, 19 June – 4 August, 2013
Park Avenue Armory, New York

McCarthy is using Disney’s Snow White, turning her into his White Snow, as a character she is readymade emotional architecture dressed as an impossibly beautiful group of images. The largest installation yet for the artist, WS took 72 semi-trucks to transport from the artist’s studio in Los Angeles to New York, where 38 people worked for about a month to install it in the Armory’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall. The artist’s son, Damon McCarthy, was among 120 people who worked on several films tied to the project.

Walt Paul is Mr. McCarthy’s character in the large-scale exhibition at the Armory, where the artist has installed a “forest” featuring 30-foot trees, oversize plants and flowers, and a three-quarter-scale replica of his childhood home. Video screens hung from the ceiling surrounding the installation show a series of 10 video projections of performances from a recent party at the house, which quickly gets out of hand. McCarthy plays Paul Walt, an amalgamation of himself and Walt Disney, who is embroiled in various psychosexual scenarios with White Snow: he cries as she asks him about doing his homework; he shoves a boom mic into her mouth; she covers his face with ketchup, etc. There is a very sad sequence where he follows her through the forest at night, howling, crying, falling down. The dwarfs dine on chicken and Red Bull, get drunk and descend into debauchery.

Tucked into a room at the entrance of New York’s Park Avenue Armory,  is a fully functional souvenir store overrun by Snow White. The artist has arranged 1,500 pieces of Disney memorabilia on countertops and in glass display cases. A small stuffed Snow White doll costs $75, a Snow White costume $350 and a large figurine of the princess dining with her dwarf cohort $10,000.

The Los Angeles-based Mr. McCarthy purchased most of the pieces, many of which are real Disney products, online from secondary sources like eBay, gallery representatives say.

The shop is part of the exhibition, and all profits go toward offsetting the overall cost of the show (which includes the funds used to acquire the knickknacks and staff the shop). Mr. McCarthy signed the pieces “Walt Paul,” a combination of his name and Walt Disney’s, in black somewhere on each of the items. Disney declined to comment on the exhibition.

Representatives at the armory say the Snow White collectibles, the boxed princesses and stuffed dwarves, the Disney piggybanks and paper plates, are flying off the shelves. “There’s some humor” in the gift shop “and a sense of Americana,” says Rebecca Robertson, president and executive producer at the armory. Mr. McCarthy, she adds, is “playing with the concept of what is art” the way Andy Warhol or surrealist Marcel Duchamp did.

The exhibition has already drawn criticism for its explicit treatment of the classic fairy tale. Restricted to visitors over the age of 17, the show comes with disclaimers about its content.

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