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Picabia Idol Core image



156.8 x 50.8 x 69.9 cm

Photography © 2017 Fredrik Nilsen, All Rights Reserved.
Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Kukje Gallery
Image provided by Kukje Gallery


Paul McCarthy occupies a critically important place in contemporary art. For more than four decades his work has repeatedly challenged audiences to confront popular myths and wrestle with the psychological undercurrents of capitalism. His work is both generous and confrontational; meticulously conceived and crafted no matter what medium he uses, his complex, often overlapping projects have come to define the zeitgeist of postmodern visual art. Exploiting genres as diverse as sculpture, performance, film, and photography, McCarthy has invented an entirely new category of art making—a mash-up of mass media and cultural fantasia that is at once universal and deeply personal.

McCarthy’s strategy of using the core, a component of the casting process, has been employed in a complex and ambitious sculptural series inspired by a painting by the French artist Francis Picabia (1879-1953) titled Woman with Idol (1940–3). This multi-leveled work was influenced by McCarthy’s career-long fascination with Picabia and the painting in particular, in which an erotic female figure embraces a giant pagan idol. McCarthy has made numerous works using the figure, rendering a two-dimensional phantasm into a three-dimensional body for examination.

There is an original Picabia Idol and then there are cores that are taken one from the other—the first being the Picabia Idol Core and the second being the Picabia Idol Core Core—all cast in silicone. In the original rendition the artist added greater depth to the original subject and details not depicted by Picabia in his painting. In the progressive cores the fabrication reveals vertical and horizontal cuts that are all part of the process.

Each subsequent core of the Picabia Idol sculpture reflects this technique, growing increasingly gaunt and winnowed with each iteration. In this way, McCarthy acknowledges how processes designed to attain verisimilitude contain innate abstractions and symbolic meaning such as in negative or interior spaces. In rendering different stages of this archetypal fetish, the artist has created a potent reflection on desire, the primitive, and the supernatural while playfully engaging Picabia, one of the 20th century’s greatest and most enigmatic artists.