Outside, it sounded like an outrageous orgy or, with all those high-pitched screams, a torture chamber for children.
The torture actually begins once you’re inside New York’s Park Avenue Armory Wade Thompson Drill Hall, where Paul McCarthy, in the pornographic installation “WS” (“White Snow”), has given titanic proportions to his sexual depravity.
For starters, there’s sadomasochism, exhibitionism and a food fetish so extreme its salvaged waste could put a dent in the hunger crisis.
McCarthy, with White Snow as his personal sex slave, has taken on the evil persona of Walt (Disney) Paul. In the gift shop, you can actually buy McCarthy’s appropriated, autographed -- and very pricey -- Disney memorabilia.
Raised platforms support a three-quarter-scale suburban ranch house modeled after McCarthy’s own childhood home and a giant fantastical forest. These are film sets (scenes of the crime) in which the artist -- through an X-rated glass darkly -- has riffed on Disney’s version of the 19th-century German fairytale “Snow White.”
It’s one of the best-known stories in the world: A young princess, white as snow, with lips as red as blood and hair as black as ebony, is put in mortal danger by her extraordinary beauty and takes refuge in a forest cottage occupied by dwarfs.
In numerous long projections blazing across multiple screens, many of them stationed along the sidelines in dingy, basement-like spaces, White Snow cooks and cleans and is generally abused. Nude, she is chased around the forest and covered with chocolate frosting and jimmies. She wrestles with McCarthy and a chair and performs fellatio on a microphone.
White Snow also stars in a porn video alongside the seven dwarfs, whose genitals are occasionally replaced by Jeff Koons-like balloon animals.
In other gross-out scenes, the pantless McCarthy trashes things and urinates for a long time; the dwarfs fight, masturbate and run amok; and Prince Charming has sexual intercourse with a love doll in the forest.
Once the word gets out, I’m sure “WS” will bring sundry New York City sleazeballs out of their dark basements. (You might want to bring your own barf bag and a taser.)
Judging by the scope and intelligence of “WS,” however, its target audience seems to be adolescent sadomasochists in training. Trouble is, with an NC-17 rating, this hard-core demographic will be left outside the gate.
“WS” runs through Aug. 4 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Ave. Information: +1-212-744-8180; http://www.armoryonpark.org.
Subtlety and erotic innuendo have little place in McCarthy’s sexual blitzkrieg, but they are at the heart of Ken Price’s humorous, fastidiously crafted ceramic enigmas.
Two delightful, handsome shows -- a ceramic sculpture retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and a survey at the Drawing Center -- provide an intimate window into the humor and talent of Price (1935-2012).
The artist’s bemusing conflations include pierced eggs that sprout forms suggesting tongues, antennae and feelers, and a comical series of clubfooted tea cups that morph into snails, trees, rocks and noses.
In one drawing and sculpture, the cup is disconcertingly lodged in a turtle’s back.
Price also produced small, iridescent biomorphic beings that flit among amoebas, sea creatures, tentacles, rocks, wrestling bears and phalluses.
Yet these playful, surrealist curiosities can also lurch menacingly like cobras, and their evocative orifices both seduce and repel.
I smiled throughout these two charming exhibitions, in which cartoon and kitsch reach dazzling heights.
“Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective” runs through Sept. 22 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. Information: +1-212-535-7710; http://www.metmuseum.org.
“Ken Price: Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Works on Paper 1962-2010” runs through Aug. 18 at the Drawing Center, 35 Wooster St. Information: +1-212-219-2166; http://www.drawingcenter.org.
(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Rich Jaroslovsky on tech and Jason Harper on cars.
To contact the writer on the story: Lance Esplund, in New York, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.