On another level, the extensive modifications the gallery must undergo to become a factory are themselves a kind of process art. According to the project manager Maccarone hired, Brian Donohue, the air-conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems all have to be overhauled before the factory opens in mid-November, both to meet New York City health codes and to accommodate the highly specific temperature and humidity requirements of chocolate making.
McCarthy’s work has long critiqued consumerist society, according to Paul Schimmel, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Santa Claus, for instance, shows up in his drawings from the late Sixties, but the approach is “not the mechanical high gloss of New York Pop; it’s already kind of mutating and political,” Schimmel says. McCarthy, who bears no small resemblance to Saint Nicholas, describes Santa as simultaneously commodified and culturally sacred—“tied up with consumption, materialism and children.”
In terms of the chocolate factory, which tweaks the idea of the gallery as mere commercial establishment, McCarthy is unsure whether success or catastrophic failure would make it a more compelling artwork. In one of his fantasies, the machines would churn out so many figurines, and sales would be so dismal, that the gallery would end up with chocolate figurines stacked to the ceiling, covering employees’ desks and clogging bathrooms and hallways.
But in another vision, he imagines selling franchises, like numbered editions. Initially the factory will make a Christmas figurine, but in the future it could produce figurines for Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving.
“The factory evolves,” he projects. “I want it to go on for five, 10 years. It adds equipment, it adds molds, it produces a series, it has a Web site. And it functions as a sidebar, or a metaphor, for art.”