The artist Paul McCarthy has long employed food as a material in his work—particularly viscous substances such as ketchup, mayonnaise and chocolate, which he has used in videos and performances as stand-ins for the bodily fluids they most closely resemble.
But this holiday season, he is taking things up a notch. In a project that combines his interest in food with a critique of artwork as commodity, McCarthy is transforming a New York gallery into a working chocolate factory for six weeks.
“I kept talking about doing this,” McCarthy says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “I decided this was the year.”
The factory, at Maccarone in the West Village, will make and sell figurines based on one of McCarthy’s sculptures, Santa With Butt Plug, a bronze version of which was exhibited at Art Basel in Switzerland this year by his dealer, Hauser & Wirth. The plant will produce about 1,000 figurines daily, which will be priced comparably to other high-end chocolates. Meanwhile, would-be customers can observe the mechanics of chocolate making: the machines that melt and temper, or crystallize, the chocolate; the spinner, which distributes it evenly over the interior surface of the mold; and the conveyor belt, which takes the finished figurines to the packaging room. “My gallery as a working place disappears and will succumb to the factory,” says owner Michele Maccarone.
McCarthy, 62, first explored the idea of manufacturing chocolates as part of his contribution to Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany, but the fair’s caterer wouldn’t let him produce food (though he did sell chocolate bars out of a vending machine inside his giant inflatable sculpture titled Blockhead). To him, the factory functions as art on many levels. “The candy figurine is a sculpture,” he says, “but I also think of the equipment as sculpture and the liquid pouring through the equipment as another type of art process or sculpture.”