US artist smacked in Paris over giant ‘sex toy’

American artist Paul McCarthy was slapped in the face and called ‘un-French’ by a passerby in Paris, who was not amused by the provocative creator’s temporary new outdoor work that many say looks like a giant sex toy.

US artist smacked in Paris over giant 'sex toy'
This Paul McCarthy sculpture has drawn a violent reaction in Paris. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

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.

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.

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Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.