Paul McCarthy is in the news again! Hold your horses now…Paul McCarthy the artist…not the singer. Earlier last week, the controversial artist installed a giant inflatable green sculpture in contribution to FIAC’s “Hors de Murs” program at right in the smack dab middle of the Place Vedrôme called “Tree”, although some might debate that it looked more like a butt plug (the artist’s favourite motif) than it did a Christmas tree. That didn’t stop some Parisians from vandalizing the 24 metre tall sculpture and even going as far as attacking McCarthy himself for “humiliating Paris”. It probably didn’t help that the sculpture was installed in a busy neighbourhood by the French justice ministry and Ritz Hotel.
Moments after the sculpture was erected (no pun intended) McCarthy was examining the installation in the area and a man attacked and yelled at him; hitting him on the head a few times before running off apparently angry that McCarthy is not French and that the sculpture doesn’t belong in the Place Vedrôme. It didn’t even last a day until protestors unhooked the sculpture’s air supply and cut down the ropes that kept the sculpture upright, in which then the artist decided to take it down to make sure no further harm could be done to the actual piece. “I don’t want to be mixed up in this type of controversy and physical violence, or even to keep taking the risks associated with this work,” McCarthy told Agence France-Presse this weekend.
Jennifer Flay, FIAC’s director responded saying that McCarthy’s attack made her feel “embarrassed for France”. Her office even had also received complaints that McCarthy was corrupting and misusing the “sacred symbol” of the Christmas tree. McCarthy has gone on stating that the sculpture had originally started as a joke and that the butt plug has a similar shape to a Brancusi sculpture, then realizing that in green it looked like a Christmas tree. I’m not sure that either FIAC or McCarthy was ready for such a backlash, Flay knew the sculpture was controversial but never expected the complaints of being offensive or harmful to children since it was approved by the local government before it was installed.
FIAC initially released a statement saying that the sculpture would be reinstalled as soon as possible. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo also took to Twitter on Saturday, suggesting that the piece would remain on the Place Vendôme and that the city would not bow to threats against artistic freedom.
McCarthy wasn’t as interested in reinstalling it stating, “Instead of the piece being about a discussion about how objects exist as language with layers of meaning, a violent reaction occurred,” McCarthy said in a statement provided to artnet News. “I am not interested in the possibility of such confrontation and physical violence, or continuing to put those around the object at risk.”
McCarthy also has a solo exhibition at Monnaie de Paris called “Chocolate Factory” described by the New York Observer as a “chocolate anal wonderland” which is a working chocolate factory in the city’s newly refurbished mint. Visitors will be greeted by many large chocolate goodies such as a Santa Claus holding a butt plug, and garden gnomes hop around toting dildos spewing molten chocolate surrounded by inflatable green Christmas trees. His exhibition will also feature a last minute addition of a video of McCarthy violently re-enacting and writing the insults that were yelled at him at the Place Vedrôme: “You dirty American,” “You shouldn’t be here,” and “Your work is degenerate!”- an obvious response to the backlash of “Tree” earlier in the week.
Who knew Parisians could be so prudish? The city is full of phallic symbols and is known to be more liberally sexual but the fact that people are recognizing the sculpture for its other meaning than it’s blatant titled meaning says a lot more about our society than it does the art.
The Los Angeles provocateur, whose aggressive sculptures, installations and videos have in the past depicted Snow White in sexually compromised positions and figures wearing George Bush masks copulating with pigs.