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Paul McCarthy in "Transformation"

“My work seems to be about tearing down and opening up conventions,” says Paul McCarthy, who bristles when asked what his responsibility is to the audience for his work. “My responsibility is to the ideas,” he explains, “that’s the difference between making art and making entertainment.”

The segment begins with a series of motorized architectural works installed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2008. McCarthy’s interest in performance is introduced through a series of minimal videos in which the artist uses his body as a tool. Later works show the artist performing similarly absurd tasks, only this time adopting a character and on a sound stage.

“The persona usually started with a kind of mask or some sort of costume,” he says. The segment concludes in McCarthy’s Los Angeles studio where he and his assistants are shown working on a series of drawings and sculptures that include elements from Snow White, Hummel figurines, and a bust of President George W. Bush.

More information and credits


Created by: Susan Sollins & Susan Dowling. Executive Producer & Curator: Susan Sollins. Series Producer: Eve-Laure Moros Ortega. Associate Producer: Migs Wright. Associate Curator: Wesley Miller. Production Manager: Nick Ravich. Production Coordinator: Larissa Nikola-Lisa. Consulting Director: Charles Atlas. Editor: Lizzie Donahue. Director of Photography: Philippe Charluet, Bob Elfstrom, Richard Numeroff, Ian Serfontein, & Joel Shapiro. Sound: Mark Cornish, Doug Dunderdale, Roger Phenix, Paul Stadden, & Merce Williams. Assistant Camera: Gideon Jennings, Clair Popkin, Michael Pruitt-Bruun, Adriano Vasquez, & Claudia Woloshin. On Screen Interviews: Ann Marie Peña & Damon McCarthy.

Creative Consultant: Ed Sherin. Art Direction & Design: Open, New York. Graphics Animation: Maurice Caicedo & Urosh Perishic. On-Line Editor: Don Wyllie. Composer: Peter Foley. Voice-Over Artist: Jace Alexander. Sound Editing: Margaret Crimmins & Greg Smith. Sound Mix: Cory Melious. Artwork Animation: Frank Ferrigno. Assistant Editor: Ahmed Amer, Janine Cappadona, Paulo Padilha, Joaquin Perez, Leana Siochi, & Ken Yapelli.

Artworks Courtesy of: Paul McCarthy; Cindy Sherman; Yinka Shonibare MBE; Hauser & Wirth, Zürich, London, New York; James Cohan Gallery, New York; Metro Pictures, New York; & Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

Special Thanks: The Art21 Board of Trustees; Michael Ashburn; Amy Baumann; Travis Call; Pat Casteel and Steve Wylie; Ginger Cofield; Ralph Cuccurullo; Jon Dawe; Dog Bark Sound; Kym Elphinstone; Frame:Runner, NYC; Thomas Harris; Tom Heman; Naotaka Hiro; Rachel Kent; Angela Kunicky; Mark Lan; Margaret Lee; Sheila Lynch; The McCarthy family; Craig McIntyre; Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Thrift Shop; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; The National Gallery of Victoria, Sydney; Paul McCarthy Studio, Los Angeles; Christopher Rawson; Andre Ribuoli; Ann-Marie Rounkle; Susan Schneider; Keith Shapiro; Skarstedt Gallery, New York; Leily Soleimani; Jessica Sonders; Sound Lounge; Lauri Stern; Jacobine Van Der Meer; Kara Vander Weg; Tony Volante; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; James Woodward; & John Wyver.

Additional Art21 Staff: Beth Allen, Mary Cook, Joe Fusaro, Jessica Hamlin, Jennifer H. Lee, Marc Mayer, Jonathan Munar, Katherine Payne, Kelly Shindler, & Sara Simonson.

Interns: Maggie Bordonaro, Krystle DeMauro, Natalia P. Good, Sophie Grant, Pinchang Huang, Joy Lai, Rachele Lam, Jamie Leonardi, Melanie K. Mambo, Pauli Ochi, Sara Odam, David Roesing, Nicole Ross, Nicole Sansone, & Julia Wright.

Public Relations: Goodman Media International. Station Relations: De Shields Associates, Inc. Legal Counsel: Albert Gottesman. Bookkeeper: Valerie Riley. Travel Agent: Lita Gottesman.

Major underwriting for Art in the Twenty-First Century Season Five provided by: National Endowment for the Arts; Public Broadcasting Service; Agnes Gund; Bloomberg; The Nathan Cummings Foundation; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; The Broad Art Foundation; Korea Foundation; & The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Paul McCarthy

Paul McCarthy’s video-taped performances and provocative multimedia installations lampoon polite society, ridicule authority, and bombard the viewer with a sensory overload, of often sexually-tinged, violent imagery. With irreverent wit, McCarthy often takes aim at cherished American myths and icons—Walt Disney, the Western, and even the Modern Artist—adding a touch of malice to subjects that have been traditionally revered for their innocence or purity. Whether conflating real-world political figures with fantastical characters such as Santa Claus, or treating erotic and abject content with frivolity and charm, McCarthy’s work confuses codes, mixes high and low culture, and provokes an analysis of fundamental beliefs.

“My work seems to be about tearing down and opening up conventions.”

Paul McCarthy

Read 1


Laughing His Way Into Character

In this interview, conducted in Los Angeles in 2009, Paul McCarthy discusses his videos, from early productions like Ma Bell (1971) up through later works like Bossy Burger (1991).