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Black and White Tapes

Paul McCarthy (American, b. 1945)


Medium video; black and white, sound; 33 min. Measurements No Measurements Credit Joseph Soffer Family Trust Fund Accession Number 2009.15 Location Not on View


Since the 1960s, Paul McCarthy has been making art that manipulates familiar aspects of American life and culture, producing imagery and narratives that are strange and at times disturbing. Influenced early in his career by Viennese Actionism, a short-lived movement of the 1960s that has had lasting impacts on Contemporary Art, McCarthy sought the break the limitations of painting by using his body as the paintbrush or even the canvas. In later work, he incorporated bodily fluids and food into his performances, again pushing the boundaries of what constitutes "fine art." Black and White Tapes is a compilation of thirteen early black and white performance tapes from the 1970s that reveals the nascent development of the themes, the raw physicality, and the performance personae that mark McCarthy's well-known later works. In several pieces, McCarthy uses his own body as a tool to examine the process of making art. At one point he becomes a human paintbrush as he drags himself across the floor while holding an open can of white paint. In another video, he violently whips the walls and pillars of his studio with a large paint-soaked sheet. The artist often uses his naked body, body parts, and body fluids in conceptual exercises. These performative acts can be overtly confrontational, as when he repeatedly spits directly onto the camera lens. Other pieces involve more subtle contradictions and inversions of objects, motion, light and shadow.—From acquisition narrative, 2009, by Douglas Fogle and Karin Campbell

Artist Bio

In the 1960s, Paul McCarthy began executing raw performances that pushed the boundaries of his own body. He recorded many of these performances on film, documentation that is now the lasting remnant of a young artist's forays into experimental body art.

After attending the University of Utah from 1966-1968, Paul McCarthy received his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1969 and his MFA from the University of Southern California in 1973. He has been featured in solo exhibitions at venues including Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2008); Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent, Belgium (2007); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2005); Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands (2004); Tate Modern, London (2003); New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, and Kunstverein Hamburg (both in 2001); and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2000). McCarhthy has recently been included in group exhibitions at venues such as CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco (2009, 2008); Museum of Modern Art, New York, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, and Bariban Art Gallery, New York (all in 2008); Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, and the Deste Foundation, Athens (both in 2007); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2006); Centre George Pompidou, Paris (2006, 2005); Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, and Reina Sofia, Madrid (all in 2005); and Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2004). He has appeared in many international survey exhibitions, including Yokohama Triennale, Japan (2008); Berlin Biennial (2006); SITE Santa Fe and Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (both in 2004); and Lyon Biennale (2003).

—From acquisition narrative, 2009, by Douglas Fogle and Karin Campbell