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Pay for Your Pleasures

Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Raymond Pettibon

Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, and Raymond Pettibon—these Southern California artists formed a “bad boy” trifecta. Early purveyors of abject art, the trio produced work ranging from sculptures of feces to copulating stuffed animals, and gained notoriety from being perverse. Showing how their work rethinks transgressive art practices in the wake of the 1960s, Pay for Your Pleasures argues that their collaborations as well as their individual enterprises make them among the most compelling artists in the Los Angeles area in recent years.
Cary Levine focuses on Kelley’s, McCarthy’s, and Pettibon’s work from the 1970s through the 1990s, plotting the circuitous routes they took in their artistic development. Drawing on extensive interviews with each artist, he identifies the diverse forces that had a crucial bearing on their development—such as McCarthy’s experiences at the University of Utah, Kelley’s interest in the Detroit-based White Panther movement, Pettibon’s study of economics, and how all three participated in burgeoning subcultural music scenes. Levine discovers a common political strategy underlying their art that critiques both nostalgia for the 1960s counterculture and Reagan-era conservatism. He shows how this strategy led each artist to create strange and unseemly images that test the limits of not only art but also gender roles, sex, acceptable behavior, poor taste, and even the gag reflex that separates pleasure from disgust. As a result, their work places viewers in uncomfortable situations that challenge them to reassess their own values.
The first substantial analysis of Kelley, McCarthy, and Pettibon, Pay for Your Pleasures shines new light on three artists whose work continues to resonate in the world of art and politics.

224 pages | 24 color plates, 50 halftones | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2013

Art: American Art, Art Criticism, Art--General Studies


“This is an extremely important and long-overdue analysis of the work of three key American artists. Cary Levine sets up a seductive context—his discussion of the alternative music scene of the 1970s is nothing if not a compelling form of music journalism—so that he can then drag us through the literal and metaphorical gore and excrescences of the artists’ actual output. The latter is both a harrowing and a pleasurable experience—we learn to ‘pay for our pleasures’ willingly and with gratitude.”

Colin Gardner, University of California, Santa Barbara

 “Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, and Raymond Pettibon never constituted a movement, but starting in the late 1970s they worked separately as well as collaboratively to break the mold of conceptually driven image and object making in Southern California—and then extended their convention-shattering reach across the United States and the Atlantic Ocean. Wreaking havoc with the cultural politics of ‘High and Low’ and the gender politics of traditional masculinity and femininity, this rambunctious threesome—at times augmented by friends such as Tony Oursler—rejuvenated American art by injecting it with the dark, furious humor and formal anarchy of minds freed from the hopeful illusions of the 1960s. Cary Levine admirably explores the background of this radical shift in the music, art, and social sciences of the late twentieth century. His is a valuable contribution to the growing literature on a current that still flows forcefully against the mainstream—and around the world.”

Robert Storr, Dean, Yale University School of Art

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Pay for Your Pleasures

1. Paul McCarthy: Making Car Crashes

2. Mike Kelley: A History of Civilization

3. Raymond Pettibon: A Democracy of Split Personalities

4. Bending Gender
Meat Cakes: McCarthy’s Punch-Drunk Hunk and Half-Done-Up Drag Queens
Caught in the Zipper: Pettibon’s Belligerent Vixens and Feeble Heroes
Manly Crafts: Kelley’s (Oxy)moronic Needle and Wood Work

5. Sex Panic
Edible Erotica, Post-Pornotopian Performances, and Sex to Sexty
Homicidal Hippies, Casual Coitus, and Demented Deviants
Social Sex Sculptures, Family Fun, and Aberrant Automata

6. The Kids Aren’t Alright
The Adolescentization of Dissent
The (De)Civilizing Process


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