When you’ve had a career as distinguished as Paul McCarthy’s, and have built that career on terrific work that often shocks and disgusts its audience, you’ve earned the right to bite the hand that feeds you—or at least nibble on it. In an interview in the current issue of Ursula magazine, which is published by McCarthy’s gallery, Hauser & Wirth, the esteemed Los Angeles artist—whose work is featured on the issue’s cover—is unusually candid when it comes to his feelings about the art industry.
What prompts this turn in the conversation between McCarthy and painter Tala Madani is the mention of the Los Angeles art world of the 1970s. McCarthy reflects on how things have changed, pointing to increased commercialization. “It seems to me this commercialization began to ramp up 10 to 15 years ago,” McCarthy says. “Right now, I feel a bit on the outside. It seems that something else is being defined. It’s controlled by the audience, the collector.” A little further on, he observes, “The art world has become more corporate. It’s part of the spread of global capitalism. It’s an indicator of the future. Money is seductive.”
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When the conversation turns to Mike Kelley, a peer of McCarthy’s who took his own life in 2012, McCarthy talks about Kelley’s thinking at the time of his death. “Mike felt that his work had changed because of the art industry,” McCarthy says. “I think it had to do with production and fabrication. I think it was such a moment for him, so tangled, he couldn’t see his way out. He seemed to be in a state of dichotomy, of pure insights and blindness.”
Continuing along the lines of how-things-became-the-way-they-are-today, McCarthy arrives at Reaganomics: “I came [to Los Angeles] with the idea that there was a potential to make fucked-up things actually within the production machine of Hollywood. But that was literally killed. I really feel that Reaganomics killed everything; a fundamental cultural change began to happen in those years in which everything became about profit. The avant-garde culture in America died.”
Then, lest we start to think McCarthy is going to spend the entire interview mansplaining the fall of art, the two turn to Madani’s work. “I’m ranting!” McCarthy says. “I want to talk about your work.”