Corey McCorkle

Keeping with his interest in utopian ideas of nature and transcendence, Corey McCorkle traveled to a village in northern Cambodia earlier this fall in search of a mystical white calf named Preah (“God” in Khmer), who has apparently been curing a variety of ailments with his lick. At the farm of Puch Pich, McCorkle joined the thousands of sick Cambodians who have been lining up to pay for a touch of the calf’s curative saliva. After Puch Pich’s wife reported that she had been cured of pains in her arms and legs by Preah’s tongue, the calf was attributed with restoring the sight of an older village woman with four licks—which thereafter became the standard dosage for the masses that flocked to the farm.

In his deadpan depiction of the calf, McCorkle flips what Arthur Danto called the artist’s “transfiguration of the commonplace,” relying simply on the transformative magic already attributed to his subject. Showing the work in a meatpacking warehouse, the artist takes this suggestive transfiguration to its extreme. In a place symbolic of the cow’s most base and unremarkable identity as a perishable commodity, McCorkle gives us a Golden Calf imbued with the weighty aura of redemption.

Preah is yet another reminder of the fact, at turns inspiring and disappointing, that the miraculous tends to take the form of the mundane and unimpressive. The ultimate subject of McCorkle’s work is not the cow he journeyed across the globe to find, but rather the power and vulnerability of belief. Belief, it may be said, remains the most effective means of transforming the world before us, if not the only way to truly remediate and redeem it. As Puch Pich warned visitors, “if he doesn’t think you believe in his powers, he won’t lick you.”

Preah in Cambodia, September 2005