James Hilger is NY Arts contributing writer based in Yonkers, New York. Paul McCarthy is a Los Angeles-based artist whose work was on view in the exhibition Peter Paul Chocolate at Maccarone Gallery in New York in December 2007.
It’s beginning to look a lot like industry at Maccarone Gallery. Conveyor belts carry, hands handle, machines mix and mingle, and down by the hem of their parents’ coats children’s mouths become smudged with Paul McCarthy’s newest chocolate work: Santa with Butt Plug.
The environment falls on the good side of wondrous.
The bright boxes are piled high. Inside each of them lies a Santa sleeping on a bed of shredded art magazines. Others line high wire shelves alert and oriented by the hundreds, carrying enough to plug any hole in your Christmas cheer. Santa stands stalwart and dutiful with his payload. His body is rigid, poised like the armature that holds a rocket ready to launch at the planet…. too easy.
There’s something very old world European about the Santa and something very 80s Time Square about the butt plug.
The machine that hollows the chocolate is an enameled hulk, whose spin is punctuated by at least two-dozen other spins of Santas turning on their own mechanized axes. The workplace is bright and cool and it smells like chocolate. Amidst the crinkle of colored cellophane and smack of Santa loose from his mold, the workers faces are rosy and seemingly tireless, a picture of non-union labor: Craigslist.
The chocolate is good. Many chocolate-makers were sampled–Swiss, Belgian, and American. In the end, the American company won out. Its origin is in Burbank, California, home to the country’s oldest chocolate-making family. I was shocked to find that a group of Californians could beat the Swiss at their own game.
“This morning eighty [department store] Santas raided our free samples. They cleaned us out,” said gallerist Amy Gadola.
I met the overseeing chef, a C.I.A. man (probably a good shot with a dollop of cream or a sprig of something) about the chocolate. He told me that everything, just everything, was “wonderful,” and I saw the word float over his head yellow and protuberant in a balloon of Dr. Seuss-ian ether.
McCarthy hopes that some of his Santas will remain safe from human ingestion and be allowed to age, acquiring the light dust that drugstore candy bars and expensive artwork made from sweets collect when they move into the golden years of their shelf life.
Christmas is about giving, and what better way to sculpt that feeling than a sensual Santa posing with a butt plug that is obviously too large for him?
It must be for us.
Everything is for sale, even the custom Santa wallpaper that covers the walls.
“We’re producing about a thousand a day, but not selling quite as many,” remarked Gadola. “Maybe only successful art can be a failure as a retail enterprise?”
“Is this going to show up on my credit card as a ‘butt plug’?” a customer asked the salesgirl. “No,” his companion said. “It’s going to show up as a ‘chocolate butt plug’.”
McCarthy’s Santa retails for $100.
The show closed (you guessed it) December 24.