restricted access Chapter 5. Food, Decay, and Disgust: Paul McCarthy’s Bossy Burger as Contemporary Still Life
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part II  Food Art Multisensoriality and Experience 93 Chapter 5 Food, Decay, and Disgust Paul McCarthy’s Bossy Burger as Contemporary Still Life Anja Foerschner In the wake of the reformation, which transformed Dutch society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, art was no longer reserved for churches and religious purposes, but rather found its way into the private realm.1 Food still lifes were among the genres that quickly gained popularity.Tables richly decorated with meats and exotic fruit, shellfish,wine,and opulent cakes,appealing to the senses were created by artists such as Pieter Claesz, Willem Claesz, Willem Heda, or Jan Davidsz de Heem for private enjoyment.One could marvel at the artists ’ exquisite skills in depicting their subject matter in photographic detail, finely nuanced colors, and elaborate compositions.2 More than being a matter of pleasurable contemplation, food still lifes were also clearly mirrors of the prevalent social and cultural circumstances: the Dutch Republic’s global expansion and increasing economic wealth as well as the internal political, religious, and social conflicts of the period. The opulent tables constituting food still lifes tell a story of prosperity and affluence,but at the same time the paintings also reflect the uncertainty that accompanied the changes in Dutch society, and bear warnings of the vanity and transience of this “Golden Age.” Articulated in subtle references and symbolism,such as overripe fruit and meat,these reminders of Vanitas in food still lifes do not diminish the paintings’ highly aesthetic quality. 94 Food Art Even though Paul McCarthy’s (b. 1945, Salt Lake City) approach of combining performance with installations, such as his messy use of food and its decay in the installation, could initially not seem further from the sensuous renderings of food in the Dutch Baroque, I argue that both share a similar statement: of a culture of superabundance answered with surfeit.In this way,a consumer society driven by materialistic pleasure is confronted with its transient nature. Even though food still life painting equally exists in other geographical areas and historical eras,the painterly products of the Dutch Baroque distinguish themselves by bearing immediate references to and carrying statements about their cultural background.I argue that the characteristics and conflicts of the globalized,capitalist society out of which they were born are not unlike the socioeconomic circumstances we encounter today. I offer an interpretation of the North American artist’s Bossy Burger (1991) as a contemporary food still life within the parameters of its Dutch predecessors and take a closer look at what reference his work then has for an understanding of our Western culture. Food has always been an integral part of the works of Paul McCarthy; in his performances of the 1960s and 1970s he choked on sausages (Hot Dog, 1974), covered his wife, Karen, in ketchup (Karen Ketchup Dream, 1974), and sexually assaulted piles of meat (Sailor’s Delight,1975).Since the beginning of the 1990s,his works have become more elaborate with the acquisition or construction of specific sets,the involvement of masks and props, or the introduction of actors. In the performance to Bossy Burger, McCarthy’s first work of this particular kind, he parodies a TV cooking show, which, at that time, had gained huge popularity in US television. In this performance, which unfolds in the old TV set of a 1960s sitcom called Family Affairs, McCarthy is clad in a chef’s costume and wears a mask depictingAlfred E.Neuman, cover boy of Mad Magazine. Contrary to the appetizing setup of a cooking show, the artist lets his food preparation get out of hand. He incoherently handles pots and glasses while crying, moaning, and mumbling incomprehensible words, in short: acting very confused. Trapped in the cubic set, which can only be viewed through small windows, he empties can after can of ketchup, mayonnaise, and milk, and disperses,smears,and splashes them all over the environment and his body (Plate 5.1). Food, Decay,and Disgust 95 Even though later pieces like Tokyo Santa (1996),Houseboat Party (2005), or Pirate Party (2005) take different narratives and topics as starting points (Santa Claus, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, respectively), the use of food as a major aspect of performing remained central to all of McCarthy’s performative installations. Accordingly, observations made in the following text about Bossy Burger apply equally to later works of the artist. Performances such as Bossy Burger serve as...


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