Hauser and Wirth, continuing its ongoing focus on California artist Paul McCarthy, is currently presenting a new video and sculptural installation by the artist, titled Rebel Dabble Babble. Taking the real life relationships between Nick Ray, James Dean (played by James Franco) and Natalie Wood during the making of Rebel Without a Cause as the inspiration for the work, McCarthy and his son Damon have created an immersive, savagely warped exploration into the film, its creation, and the decaying image of Americana that it sought to depict, while challenging the interplay between a cultural artifact and its production.
The monumental WS, McCarthy’s landmark work currently on view at The Park Avanue Armory, charted a new course for the artist, exploring a filmic technique that combined extended performance with structural installation, utilizing large-scale set pieces to create the bounds for open-ended explorations of characters, icons, and formats. The product of these film series are then manipulated and threaded back through the installation, creating the final gallery work. Characters and scenes become charged with new significances and insights, lent weight by the various complementing scenes and structures. It is this landscape that McCarthy once again inhabits here, setting Ray’s Chateau Marmont bungalow as the space for his explorations. Videos are projected on the walls surrounding the installation, and visitors are welcome to climb the stairs of the house, witnessing the ominous scenes of violence and bare walls that fill the space. In one scene, McCarthy parodies the classic form of the American cooking show, dressed as a hapless interpretation of Colonel Sanders, spilling chicken and sides across the tables. In another, he depicts his characters interviewed by the camera, as if they were appearing on a “The Making Of” documentary around the film. It’s a similar technique to WS, conflating cultural signifiers with the characters and environment to confuse the viewer, and to scramble the messages between each scene.
Going further, McCarthy’s new process welcomes an interplay between works. By using the same actors as his other filmic works (his Natalie Wood also plays one of the Snow White sisters in WS), his works become enmeshed in a network of productions, operating not just on their own interpretation of a film and its creation, but on the broader idea of the Hollywood studio system and its set of rules and constraints. This process becomes quite inspired when one considers the presence of Franco, who takes on the role of Dean (a role he has played in Hollywood before), and who also mirrored this production technique in his own show, Psycho Nacirema (based around the film Psycho and the trial of actor Fatty Arbuckle) this year in London.
Rebel, despite similar thematic and visual elements, has a decidedly more sinister aura surrounding it, with inspiration drawn from a far more factual source, and its characters hewing closer to believable, realistic human subjects. Accordingly, moments of sexual depravity are lent far less comic appeal, instead calling forth a tangible tinge of horror. In one room, an enormous screen depicts McCarthy (as Nick Ray), instructing another character through a series of sex acts while he films it. The bizarre juxtaposition of multiple shots in frame brings the viewer to question just what is being documented: the act of defilement, or the act of filming it. Revisiting McCarthy’s recurring theme of patriarchal power structures, the artist makes the oppressive capacity of the camera immediately apparent, bounding his characters, and the work itself, in the disturbing act of its creation.
The exhibition also features a large selection of shots from the production, including portraits of all of the characters, and famous recreations of scenes from Ray’s original film.
Creating an intriguing dialogue between artistic production, mass culture and the broader societal implications of these forms, the McCarthys’ Rebel Dabble Babble is another dizzying entry into what may become the artist’s ongoing attempt to forever change the way his viewer watches cinema. The show closes on July 26th.
Hauser and Wirth [Exhibition Site]