PARIS — About 60 artists and art critics allied with the French chapter of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) gathered in the Place Vendôme at mid-day Friday near where Paul McCarthy’s once mighty butt plug–based inflatable “Tree” had once stood and stooped. McCarthy himself was absent.
Curiously, we were not there to protest the official censorship of the smirky-smutty shape. After all, French president François Hollande has stood solidly behind the artist. As has the mayor, Anne Hidalgo, and the deputy mayor of Paris in charge culture, Bruno Julliard. Indeed, the state strongly condemned the damage to “Tree” and the attack on the artist, who was slapped several times by unknown assailants.
So this anti-censorship campaign was, for once, not directed against the authorities: “Tree” received all necessary approvals: the Prefecture of Police of the City of Paris and the Ministry of Culture, in conjunction with the Vendôme Committee. No. This flash mob protest was directed abstractly against the unknown assailants responsible for the attacks on the épater la bourgeoisie artist and his public art, work that was perhaps perceived as war-on-Christmasy.
And, I might surmise, a bit of the demonstration could be seen as directed against Paul McCarthy himself, for throwing in the towel so quickly. McCarthy passed on re-inflating (or moving) his “Tree,” saying something like he does not want to be involved in this type of confrontation and physical violence.
McCarthy has been busy capitalizing on the media storm, belaboring the Place Vendôme incident with a new scandalous post-Divine art joke: an eatable chocolate “Tree” (le chocolat de Noël, 70% dark chocolate, pure cocoa butter) produced by Damiens chocolate as part of McCarthy’s exhibition Chocolate Factory. It sells at the Paris Mint Chocolate factory, at the Colette boutique, and at Galeries Lafayette for 50 Euros (~$63) a plug.
Rather than protesting classical top-down artistic censorship, this flash mob, with some orchestration from the performance artist ORLAN, affirmed the right to freedom of expression and artistic creation. We did so by displaying amass color images of the missing Vendôme “Tree” for the public and the camera.
It was a quiet and dignified affair.