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Park Avenue Armory’s mission is to revitalize one of America’s historic treasures as a dynamic alternative arts space unlike any other in New York. Part palace, part industrial shed, the Armory is dedicated to the development and presentation of work in the visual and performing arts best realized in a non-traditional setting. With its Gilded Age interiors and soaring 55,000-square-foot Drill Hall, the Armory allows artists to create – and audiences to experience – epic, immersive and adventurous work that cannot be done anywhere else. The Armory seeks to stimulate the most ambitious and innovative work many artists will undertake in their career. Such has been its impact in its first five years that in December 2011 The New York Times noted “Park Avenue Armory…has arrived as the most important new cultural institution in New York City.”

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What is a GESAMTKUNSTWERK?

A gesamtkunstwerk, translated from German to mean “total work of art,” is a work that strives to incorporate all mediums. Composer Richard Wagner famously used the word in two 1849 essays, “Art and Revolution,” and “The art-work of the future,” to propose a unification of all art forms within the theater.

Dadaist Kurt Schwitters developed the Merzbau (pictured above) in his family home in Hanover, Germany from 1923 to 1936; an abstract environmental collage-sculpture that was comprised of grottoes and found objects that were constantly shifting and expanding as a representation of his life’s work. The Bauhaus and Russian Constructivist movements also attempted to accomplish the “total artwork” with the integration of architecture, painting, sculpture, and language.

Alex Poots, Park Avenue Armory’s Artistic Director, has described Paul McCarthy’s WS as “a true Gesamtkunstwerk,” a thought echoed by Co-curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist: “McCarthy’s monumental new work gathers together the many dimensions of his singular practice, amplifying them in a complex dialogue with the architecture of the Park Avenue Armory.” The artist has drawn from the performances, sculptures, drawings, sets, writing, sound, and video of his nearly fifty-year career to offer WS, his largest work to date.

Each week during the run of WS we’ll investigate a theme, form, or concept that runs as a thread throughout McCarthy’s practice and also appears in the total work of art that is WS. Stay tuned!
(Image: The Hannover Merzbau by Kurt Schwitters. Photo by Wilhelm Redemann, 1933. Source: moma.org)

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