The Unavoidable Butt Plug

Is it possible that there is someone out there, in the admittedly rather limited 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 offload an unusual hefty load of this kind of stuff. [too much?]


But what of it? What can be said of this impossible to ignore, albeit, some might say, all too brief intrusion into Place Vendome? [the piece has now been permanently removed]


Having been asked for an 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, unprecedented level of recognition this particular form has gained within general society, but also that its [temporary] erection was done in celebration of another round of the world-wide, 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, implying it has, as is the nature of Butt Plugs, been somehow, magically, removed from rather than introduced to the art world and now, across all these gatherings, FIAC, Frieze, Artissimo 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.


The amount of recognition would also seem to qualify this piece of art as being truly a work of the per-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[1]], and just another cross semination between the world of Art and Pornography.[2]


You’ve also got to question just how truly shocking is it? I mean really? I can quite happily give you a list of 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 hand work of Mischa Badasyan that recently gained half a second’s notice in the world [which, it must be said, is neither that interesting or worth the risk of STD’s].[3]


Now, admittedly none of these were quite as monumental as McCarthy’s work, quite so “In your face” you might say, 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.[4] 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 recognise 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 quandia-internet age [I’m sticking with it]. Both of which 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 suck like, 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, in that he, 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 naivety 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.