Butt-plugs aren’t as edgy as they were

You’ve almost certainly seen the large green butt-plug resembling installation by Paul McCarthy, put on display in Paris earlier this month. The work, entitled ‘Tree’, was gone within a day; what has been called a conservative backlash of ‘vandalism’ finally caused security services to deflate the ‘abstracted Christmas tree’. McCarthy was actually slapped in the face by a passer by.

Maybe you haven’t, though, seen the artist’s reaction. Did he realise his installation was in bad taste and step back? No. Well, hopefully he realised it was in bad taste, or there really is no hope for humanity, but his response has been aggressive and repulsive, to take ‘revenge’ by upping his game.

Across the river, in the newly renovated Monnaie de Paris, the city’s historic mint, McCarthy’s newest work has been going on for the last week or so. Entitled ‘Chocolate Factory’, the artwork consists of a working factory, producing chocolate santas and butt plugs, to be sold outside for the bizarrely high price of €50 each. What?

It’s almost a hundred years since Duchamp displayed his work entitled ‘Fontain’; literally, just a signed urinal. That had a point in a stuffy art-world. And maybe it was actually shocking that someone would do that.

But McCarthy? His work is the ultimate in tiresome, posturing attention seeking. You can almost see the thought process. ‘What will shock everyone?’ Still, in an age where, to be honest, the urinal doesn’t cut the mustard. I know…a giant green
butt plug will ensure that every press outlet, right down to the last student-run papers, will run a piece on me.

I do feel a little ashamed at pandering to that sort of blatant, lewd attention seeking. But the thing is, it’s really not that shocking. In fact, the green butt plug that caused so much controversy isn’t a new idea of the artist’s. He’s been doing it for the last few decades.

In 2001, McCarthy installed his work ‘Santa Claus’ in Rotterdam, a giant, rather hideous, statue holding an object which bears, again, strong resemblance to a butt-plug. The work became known as the ‘butt plug gnome’. This isn’t the only one – several other inflatable lewd santas have been erected in various places.

In fact, the ‘chocolate factory’ isn’t even new either. In 2007, the artist released a series of chocolate santas with butt-plugs. If they weren’t sold out you’d be able to pick up one of these horrors for the generous price of £371 on Artspace. Here’s the blurb: “This work demonstrates the artist’s proclivity towards messy, edible materials that viscerally conjure bodily processes and fluids. Santa Claus is also a recurring motif in McCarthy’s body of work.” Let’s interpret that art-speak; chocolate looks like shit, and McCarthy can’t think of anything else to produce.

People sometimes, unfairly, criticize modern art for simply being an idea, given to a workshop to produce. But here is something worth criticizing, something where the idea is so unbelievably awful, so mind numbingly tiresome and passe.