Is it possible that there is someone out there, in the admittedly rather narrow demographic of folk who read this and other art related material, who hasn’t heard of Paul McCarthy’s forceful insertion of a thirty foot high inflatable replica Butt Plug into one of Paris’ most desirable addresses?
And yes, in case you were wondering, there is a fair chance that this puerile level of double entendre will continue throughout. If nothing else it gives me, the humble writer, a chance to palm off a hefty load of this kind of stuff. (Too much?)
But what of it? What can be said of this impossible to ignore the—some might say—all too brief intrusion into Place Vendôme? (The piece has now been permanently removed.)
Having been asked my opinion by a number of colleagues and friends I found myself, without too much forethought, responding that it is—if nothing else—perhaps the art we as western society in our later stages of decadence, truly deserve. A fact spoken of not only by the previously unimaginable level of recognition McCarthy's sculpture has gained within society at large, but also because its (temporary) erection was done in celebration of another round of the worldwide, non-stop orgy of untrammelled consumerism that is the Art Fair circuit.
I even wondered if this could be the physical manifestation of the Italian expression “estrarre il tappo” that translates as “pull the cork out” (meaning out of your arse, i.e., don’t be so uptight/pretentious). And subsequent to this appearance, the implication is that, as is the nature of Butt Plugs, it has been somehow, magically, removed from, rather than introduced to, the art world, and now across all these gatherings—FIAC, Frieze, Artissima, et al.—the gallerists were going to fall silent, the buyers put their wallets/egos away, and all these grand halls were going to slowly empty, the entire circus deflating like so much lurid green PVC.
Via: Twitter @Flosh
The amount of recognition would also seem to qualify this piece of art as being truly a work of the quandiu-internet art phase we are currently inhabiting (yes, I have just coined this term, but then again "post-internet art" seems a terrible misnomer as, for now at least, the internet doesn’t seem to be disappearing), and just another cross semination between the worlds of Art and Pornography.
You’ve also got to question just how truly shocking is it? I mean, really? I can quite happily give you a list of plenty sexually explicit artworks we could consider far more shocking, from Koons’ Made in Heaven to Andrea Fraser’s Untitled, and even the depressingly desperate and heavy-handed work of Mischa Badasyan that recently gained half a second’s notice in the world (which, it must be said, is neither that interesting nor worth the risk of STDs).
Now, admittedly none of these were quite as monumental as McCarthy’s work, quite so “in your face,” as it were, and therefore less likely to offend the sensibilities of the public, who apparently don’t need much excuse to slap a 69-year-old man three times, or—perhaps worse in their eyes—furiously accuse him of not being French. Putting to one side the nationality of the artist, none of this escapes the central paradox at the heart of the entire debacle: that to actually be offended by this form you have to recognize it for what it is, implying either that you yourself have what we could call a "diverse" or "open" sexual life or, the more likely option I feel, you have taken advantage of the free access to hardcore pornography offered by our quandiu-internet age (I’m sticking with it). Both possibilities indicate a certain hypocrisy in your offence (an uncomfortable little thought knocking on the back door of your psyche perhaps?), the unpacking of which leads us in the direction in which the sculpture was maybe truly intended: as an homage to the liberated adult pleasures and joys of contemporary times.
And note that I say here "adult" pleasures, as so often this is the nexus upon which these little storms of outrage focus, that it’ll be seen by "the kids" and here again we seem to come across a crazy hypocrisy within the forces of the offended, and perhaps some of McCarthy’s brilliance as an artist. McCarthy meanwhile, in his slashed description of the piece as a Butt Plug/Christmas tree, offered us all an easy escape clause from the children bind. Yes, just tell them it’s a Christmas tree and don’t get upset about it. Your getting all red-faced only necessitates the explanation and exposé of some uncomfortable truths about life and the human body in advance of the moment when they hit early teens and find their way around whatever password encryption system you’ve established on the family computer. And this could be the criticism of McCarthy. This could show his naïvety as to the times in which we’re living and harken back to when he was a child and adults knew how to put to one side their own narcissistic desire for attention in order to preserve the innocence of the babes.
Either way, it is now gone forever and everyone is left blushing and wishing that one way or other it could have ended differently. We could have, after all, simply keep our mouths shut, and, no matter what our feelings were, looked at the sculpture and remembered that not all discomfort is bad; some of it can actually be quite gratifying.
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