Paul McCarthy at Tate Modern will feature the largest-ever inflatable sculptures outdoor on Tate Modern’s north landscape. On Level 5 there will be drawings and maquettes of the sculptures. Blockhead, newly commissioned from the American artist Paul McCarthy, will be over thirty-five metres high. The sculpture will be a spectacular addition to London’s Bankside and the first major installation on Tate Modern’s North Landscape.
Paul McCarthy (born 1945) is widely considered to be one of the most influential and groundbreaking artists of today. Using the language and imagery of the all-pervasive American consumer culture he grew up with, his work distorts and mutates the familiar into the disturbing and carnivalesque. McCarthy first became known in the 1970s for his visceral performances and film works but during the 1990s extended his practice into stand alone sculptural figures, installations and most recently a series of large inflatable sculptures.
His recent retrospective was shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2000, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, the Villa Arson, Nice, France and Tate Liverpool in 2001.
Blockhead will be loosely based on the character of Pinocchio, but as in much of McCarthy’s work, this popular children’s character is mutated to a form bordering on the grotesque. The work will combine this strange mutation with funfair spectacle. There will be an opening at the base of the figure leading into a cavernous hallway where visitors will be able to purchase specially made candy. The enormous scale of the figure is designed to physically overpower the viewer, an experience the artist has likened to standing at the bottom of a cliff, describing the inflatable as ‘an abstract that rises up and over your head’. However, this extraordinary physical presence will be seemingly negated by the black surface which McCarthy describes as creating ‘a black object’ which becomes ‘a hole in the landscape’. Among McCarthy’s earliest works was a series of black paintings made in 1967-68 and he has quoted several of the leading artists from this period, such as American sculptor Tony Smith, in reference to the starkness of Blockhead’s black form.
Shown alongside Blockhead will be Daddies Bighead, a second newly commissioned inflatable sculpture that will stand approximately half the height of Blockhead at sixteen metres tall. Daddies Bighead will be based on a ketchup bottle. Ketchup has been a pivotal motif through all of McCarthy’s work. He has frequently used ketchup in his performances and installations, along with other kitchen table foodstuffs such as mayonnaise and chocolate, as stand-ins for bodily fluids and excretions. These grocery staples of domestic family life are transformed in McCarthy’s work into representations of violence, sex and defecation.