In the works of Los Angeles-based artist Paul McCarthy, conventionally innocent figures are made perverse, performing taboo sex acts, making McCarthy one of the most difficult-to-stomach yet commercially and critically successful artists of recent decades. Drawing inspiration from the radically confrontational Viennese Actionists and the Happenings of Allan Kaprow and others, McCarthy quickly strayed away from his initial interest in painting and in the 1970s began composing performances with the goal of physically disrupting the sense of material comfort, general apathy, and violent cultural dissolution that he viewed as the results of the United States’ consumerist, entertainment-driven mass media and popular culture. Though serious in intent and critique, McCarthy’s performances, and sculptures alike have an important element of comedy, though twisted and profane, that aids in highlighting the absurdity of contemporary circumstances.
McCarthy's work has been exhibited extensively, including solo shows at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the New Museum in New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Museum of Modern Art. His work has also been featured at numerous incarnations of the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale.