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Paul McCarthy’s Chocolate Factory in Paris

“Chocolate Factory”, Paul McCarthy’s major solo show curated by Chiara Parisi, is open from 25 October 2014 to 4 January 2015 in the new Monnaie de Paris exhibition space, which has been entirely appropriated by the artist.

Paul McCarthy is a main figure of the international art scene. For an entire generation of artists he embodies the energy and capacity for reinvention so particular to the city of Los Angeles. His work had wielded a huge influence on currently practising artists.

Back to Europe from “WS”, its largest exhibition held at New York’s Park Avenue Armory in spring 2013, in which adding a touch of malice to subjects that have been traditionally revered for their innocence or purity, McCarthy weaved together a massive, fantastical forest of towering trees with grotesque video projections of iconic characters playing out their own fairy tale drama in a replica of his childhood home.

A daring social commentary teasing the American dream and its cherished icons, bombarding the viewer with a sensory overload of scatological, sexual, violent imagery that boldly forces the viewer to acknowledge the twisted underside to saccharine idols in popular culture. The result was a visceral, very challenging, immersive experience by one of the most influential and important artists of our generation.

For his first large-scale solo exhibition in France, McCarthy brings the final configuration of “Chocolate Factory” exclusively to Paris. In this complex and ambitious project, the story of a work seven years in the making merges with the history of the space.

The wonderland experience begins at the main staircase, where the visitor is lured into a fairytale forest of giant inflatable Christmas trees. Aside from their looming proportions, these familiar objects appear bizarrely out of place in the polished surrounds of the historical building. This surprising juxtaposition draws us into the magic of Hollywood and the dark side of the American dream.

Continuing into the main reception room, the Salon d’Honneur or Guillaume Dupré room, we find a team of confectioners hard at work in a life-size, fully functioning chocolate factory.

The consumable and perishable artworks produced by “Chocolate Factory” are available for purchase there and then, in unlimited quantities. Mounds of chocolate figures grow by the day to form one massive sculpture, culminating on the final day of the exhibition.

McCarthy transforms our succession of 18th-century salons into his own personal dreamworld. Visitors consciously choose whether or not to open the door to this part of the exhibition after viewing the “Chocolate Factory” installation. A film projected in each room speaks to our subconscious, our hidden side, our unspoken innermost thoughts. Over different versions replayed in each of the eight salons, the film becomes an absorbing labyrinth; visitors may abandon themselves to the experience or choose not to find out what lies behind the door. Reality gives way to the absurd in this fantasy land inspired by Alfred Jarry’s King Ubu character. The peculiar otherworldly feel of the tunnel-like installation is enhanced by the presence of the artist’s bed, which has been moved here for the duration of the exhibition. In counterpoint to the frantic pace of the Factory, this is the realm of slumber and unconsciousness, of absence from the self. Bed is a place between waking and sleeping; a place where we stop, leave behind our established dominant role and give in to dreams. A place of endless possibilities.