The most innocent of deer could no longer be the same after seeing Paul McCarthy’s version trampling poor Thumper with a maniacal grin on his face. Bambi isn’t the only beloved Disney figure the 71-year-old American has turned into a nightmare through his sculptures. Snow White, her prince, even the silly dwarf Dopey – they all pay dearly in Brussels’ Xavier Hufkens Gallery, where the LA-based artist has taken over two exhibition spaces and filled them with his contorted archetypes, fierce critiques of a profit-obsessed society.
The first gallery, where one is welcomed by giant Snow White heads in screaming colors, is vintage McCarthy. It’s not the first time Disney falls prey to the provocateur’s manipulations. Just three years ago, the artist and his son Damon McCarthy unveiled WS, an immersive and deeply disturbing show at New York’s Park Avenue Armory, where the distorted body of Snow White lied bloodied on the floor, and Prince Charming could be caught masturbating on video. Walt Paul – an old, naked figure whose name is a contraction of Walt Disney and the artist’s own – popped up there before and now does so again in Brussels. This time, the dark alter ego occupies perhaps the most unsettling work in the show. It is called The Grove, and between vibrant flowers and plants, the pot-bellied pervert can be seen dragging a naked Snow White into the bushes.
Of course, if one wants to criticize American mythology and the country’s thirst for profit, the vast Disney empire makes for a welcome target. In mocking unoriginal byproducts ordered by executives with dollar signs in their eyes, McCarthy has made his own – albeit horrifying – spinoffs.
Westerns, too, have proven a thankful subject as McCarthy sets out to pulverize the masculine image of the silver screen cowboy in gallery two. The pop-culture obsessive hailing from Salt Lake City took the inspiration for the newest iterations in his long-running Stagecoach project from John Ford’s eponymous western classic. Like most of McCarthy’s exhibitions, the sculptures and drawings on display take a film as their starting point. In this case, it’s the artist’s taboo-fueled re-imagining of the 1939 movie that kick-started actor John Wayne’s career. In his version of Stagecoach, six strangers board the prairie wagon only to embark on a depraved orgy of rape and violence.
To be discovered in Brussels are drawings outlining the shocking scenes, and for the first time, massive sculptures that mock the gun-toting ways of John Wayne and Charles Bronson are revealed. A mustachioed Bronson is put through the ringer by a four-meter-tall sculpture that jabs steel pokes through his eyes and has the actor sitting atop a gruesome half-horse, the whole work splattered in yellow drab. As for John Wayne, the master of subversion didn’t give him facial features so much as he tore out the ultimate cowboy’s eyes and mouth.
White Snow & Coach Stage Stage Coach, Spinoffs runs until October 22nd in the Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Brussels.