When is Ketchup just Ketchup? : Toward a Sociological Reading of Paul McCarthy's Early Video Art

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Wolf, Robin Frances
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
In much of the scholarship about Paul McCarthy's video and performance work, the artist's use of food has been described in terms of its anthropomorphic qualities-its ability to masquerade as excrement or blood. Paul McCarthy's historical moment, though, prompts a different understanding of his work, specifically his use of food. The mid-70's saw incredible changes in the ways food was bought, sold and processed. It is the purpose of this thesis to resist the impulse to sensationalize his antics or frame them in terms of their psychosis in order to analyze how in McCarthy's work functions as a critique of the rapidly changing American food industry, specifically through McCarthy's treatment of ketchup and his use of meat. Through the use of commercial food products, this thesis also describes how an art historical connection to Pop Art can be made and provides several alternatives to art historical genealogies proposed for McCarthy's work.