Art21 Extended Play

Paul McCarthy: “Black & White Tapes”


Episode #128: Interviewed in his Los Angeles studio, Paul McCarthy discusses the genesis of his Black and White Tapes (1970–75), a suite of 13 videos begun while he was a student at the University of Southern California (USC). Also featuring excerpts from the video Ma Bell (1971) and works in the exhibition Central Symmetrical Rotation Movement—Three Installations, Two Films (2008) at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

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.

Paul McCarthy is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode Transformation of the Art in the Twenty-First Century television series on PBS. Watch full episodes online for free via PBS Video or Hulu, as a paid download via iTunes (link opens application), or as part of a Netflix streaming subscription.

VIDEO | Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Bob Elfstrom & Richard Numeroff. Sound: Doug Dunderdale & Merce Williams. Editor: Lizzie Donahue & Joaquin Perez. Artwork Courtesy: Paul McCarthy. Special Thanks: Whitney Museum of American Art.