Critics’ Picks

Georg Baselitz, BDM Group, 2012, patinated bronze, 12 x 8 x 5'.

Athens

Paul McCarthy and Georg Baselitz

The George Economou Collection
80, Kifissias Ave.
June 21 - October 5

This exhibition is a strangely sympathetic dialogue between a pair of perennial rebels whose work transgresses and lampoons popular norms through approaches that surf seamlessly between mediums to critique and contaminate artistic conventions. Paul McCarthy and Georg Baselitz have both long been occupied with exorcising their devils in various stylistic expressions—the American a hysterical clown acting out the hypocrisy of a capitalist society, the German an angry antihero expressing the guilt of history.

The Sturm und Drang is introduced immediately by two monumental sculptures: McCarthy’s White Snow, Flower Girl, 2012–13, a voluptuous walnut sculpture of Snow White as mirror-image Siamese twins holding floral bouquets; and Baselitz’s BDM Group, 2012, three monolithic bronze figures portraying girls from a Nazi youth group rendered in featureless black surfaces that give the appearance of burnt, rough-hewn wood. On another floor, the artists debunk the myth of the romantic hero. Baselitz’s paintings Economy, 1965, and M. M. M. in G and A, 1961–66, are satirical caricatures of big mountain men with small heads, the former’s robust but useless manhood bursting from his lederhosen. Meanwhile McCarthy’s Alpine Man, 1992, mechanically humps a beer barrel. Elsewhere, an unsettlingly realistic dummy of McCarthy, Horizontal, 2012, lies on a table—in the tradition of a dead Christ painting—in front of Baselitz’s Eagle in Bed, 1982, a self-portrait mostly devoid of color. Here we understand how McCarthy, who likens performance to painting and sculpture to frozen performance, has made himself a character to act out rituals in search of catharsis—from facing the fear to being the beast. In that light, Baselitz’s works become disingenuous, even maudlin. The comparison is profound and comic, portraying the two artists as existential jokers wallowing in the abject so we don’t have to. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.