QUESTIONS: Paul McCarthy

The following questions can be used to spark conversation before, during, and after viewing the artist's film segment. They were compiled from our Educators' Guides and Screening Toolkits. We strongly encourage active viewing strategies that involve audiences in discussion in order to anticipate and set-up the ideas in the film, clarify content, or further the ideas while watching, and gives viewers the opportunity to process and re-consider their ideas after watching. Additional resources and strategies for teaching with films and working with contemporary art can be found in Teach.


"Piccadilly Circus," 2003. Performance, video, installation, and photographs, dimensions variable. Performance, video, and installation at Hauser & Wirth, Zürich and London. © Paul McCarthy. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zürich London.

Before Viewing
Describe an instance when you were confronted with something familiar that was distorted, transformed, or even mutilated. Describe artworks, advertisements, or aspects of popular culture that play with or distort familiar genres or subject matter.

What subjects, ideas, or imagery are considered taboo in contemporary society, or in particular cultures? Why do you think these taboos exist? How are social mores and conventions of social behavior established, and how are they enforced?


SEGMENT: Paul McCarthy in "Transformation"

While Viewing
Make a list of your reactions as you look at McCarthy's work in this segment. What provokes the strongest reactions? Discuss which works provoke laughter, discomfort, curiosity, or other feelings, and why they do.

Take note of how McCarthy transforms the familiar into disturbing, grotesque, or carnival-like imagery. On what kinds of characters and subject matter does he focus? What kinds of materials, tools, and approaches does he use to achieve these transformations?


"Mad House," 1999/2008. Steel, aluminum, electric cabinet, plywood, and chair, 138 x 168 x 168 inches. Installation view at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photo by Ron Amstutz. © Paul McCarthy. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zürich London.

After Viewing
McCarthy says that his work seems to be about tearing down and opening up conventions. How does he do this? What are the conventions to which he refers?


"Mimi," 2008. Silicon and steel, 29 x 24 x 16 inches. Photo by Ann-Marie Rounkle. © Paul McCarthy. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zürich London.

McCarthy says that his responsibility is to the ideas in his work and not to the audience. Describe one of the works in this segment in which McCarthy pursues an idea without considering the audience. How would you describe the idea? How has he chosen to convey it?


"Meat Cake #3," 1974. Performance, video, black-and-white and color photographs, 35:09 minutes. Videography by Mike Cram. © Paul McCarthy. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, Zürich London.