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US artist smacked in Paris over giant 'sex toy'

Joshua Melvin · 17 Oct 2014, 12:11

Published: 17 Oct 2014 12:11 GMT+02:00

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The giant green temporary creation in the posh Place Vendôme area of Paris might be a Christmas tree, but then again it might be something a bit racier, with many observers pointing out that it resembles a giant anal plug.


As a result the work by the one of the "enfants terribles" of the contemporary art world, Paul McCarthy, is drawing strong and even violent reactions in Paris.

After the pop-up art work, titled “Tree”, was erected on Thursday a passerby found it so offensive he smacked the 69-year-old American three times in the face and screamed at the artist “you're not French and the work has no place on the square,” French daily Le Monde reported.

Although dazed and shocked, the artist was unhurt and reportedly asked “does this sort of thing happen often in France?” His attacker fled before he could be caught.

When asked what the intended “Tree” to look like, McCarthy indicated he was toying with the appearance of the object.

“It all started with a joke. Originally, I thought that a butt plug had a shape similar to the sculptures of [Romanian artist] Constantin Brâncusi. Afterwards, I realized that it looked like a Christmas tree,” McCarthy told Le Monde. “ But it is an abstract work . People can be offended if they want to think of it as a plug, but for me it is more of an abstraction.”

The outrage from France's conservative groups was swift on Twitter with the right-wing pressure group Printemps Français writing: "A giant 24-metre tall butt plug has just been set up at Place Vendôme! Place Vendôme disfigured! Paris humiliated!"

Those who find the work a bit insulting won’t have to put up with it forever. It was installed for the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) which is set to run from October 23rd to the 26th in Paris.

And it’s worth noting the work has all its papers and approvals in order.

“This work received all the necessary authorizations: the Prefecture de Police, Paris Town Hall, the Ministry of Culture and the Comité Vendome, which represents the business owners on the square,” FIAC Artistic Director Jennifer Flay told Le Monde. “What’s art good for if not to disturb, raise questions, to reveal the weaknesses in society?”

Controversy is nothing unusual for McCarthy who is known for performances and exhibitions that attack consumer-driven American society.

Story continues below…

In one 1976 piece he threw himself around a ketchup smeared room until injured and then inserted a Barbie doll into his rectum.

More recently he sparked controversy with a work that featured Disney characters Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in sexual situations in 2009.

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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