Paul McCarthy Beaten Up over Butt Plug Sculpture

The FIAC installation has France in fisticuffs.

Paul McCarthy, Tree (2014)
Via: @HauserWirth on Twitter

Paul McCarthy was attacked in Paris on Thursday while installing his contribution to FIAC’s “Hors Les Murs” program at Place Vendôme, reports Le Monde. Tree (2014) stands 24 meters-tall (79 feet) and is made of green plastic canvas in a form that resembles, depending on who you ask, a Christmas tree, a Brancusi sculpture, or a butt plug-type sex toy.

A perennial bad-boy even at 69 years-old,  McCarthy began installing the sculpture at 11:30 am, according to the paper. At approximately two in the afternoon while the artist was surveying the completed work, an unknown assailant accosted McCarthy, allegedly screaming that his sculpture did not belong on the Place Vendôme before hitting him in the face at least three times. He was apparently additionally upset by the fact that McCarthy is not French.

Le Monde‘s Emmanuelle Jardonnet, who was speaking to the artist at the time of the attack, said that he was visibly jarred and shocked by the incident but appeared not to have been seriously injured by the angry Frenchman.

Responding to the incident, FIAC director Jennifer Flay told the paper: “It’s heartbreaking that anyone would attack an artist.” She said that her French roots drew her back to the country from New Zealand but that such an attack makes her “embarrassed for France,” even if she believes the attacker’s views and violent response are not representative of the country at large.

Flay told Le Monde that her office had also received complaints that McCarthy was corrupting and misusing the “sacred symbol” of the Christmas tree.

By Friday morning #Vendome was the top trending topic on Twitter, with individuals variously posing humorously with the sculpture or decrying it as a affront to French culture and the country’s children.

The Sculpture “started as a joke”

For his part, McCarthy told the paper that the sculpture “started as a joke.” He says that he originally thought that butt plugs have a similar shape to a Brancusi sculpture and later realized that, in green, the form was also redolent of a Christmas tree. “But it is an abstract work,” McCarthy contends. “People may be offended if they want to refer to [it as a] plug, but, for me, it is more of an abstraction.”

Flay also concedes that the sculpture is undeniably controversial and plays on an ambiguity of form between a Christmas tree and the sex toy. “This is neither a surprise nor a secret,” she tells Le Monde. However, she contends that this very ambiguity buffers the sculpture from being offensive or harmful to children and notes that it was fully approved by all relevant governmental and local bodies before being installed.

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