A naughty bit of public statuary by Atelier Van Lieshout that was due to be featured in the outdoor sculpture program of Paris’s FIAC art fair has been blocked by the Louvre. “Domestikator,” a 2015 piece by the sculpture studio founded by Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout, is a large, red, architectural work in the shape of a standing humanoid figure doing the dirty, doggie-style, with another figure — possibly a human on all fours, or perhaps an animal of a different species.
“Stories on the internet are circulating and attributing a brutal message to this work, which risks to be badly received by the public in the gardens,” Louvre Director Jean-Luc Martinez wrote in a letter to FIAC’s organizers last month, according to Le Monde. Martinez may have been particularly worried that Atelier Van Lieshout’s structure could stir the same kind of widespread public outcry faced by the Guggenheim Museum in New York recently for planning to show works that involved the mistreatment of animals. He may also have been wary of setting off another #ButtPlugGate, given the unfortunate fate met by Paul McCarthy’s inflatable sculpture “Tree” in 2014, when it was featured in FIAC’s public art program on the Place Vendôme.
“I don’t find this work provocative, certainly no more than what circulates on social media,” van Lieshout told Libération. “But today there is so much self-censorship, museums are so afraid of commentary that they exclude or forbid a great deal of things for fear of inflammatory polemics on Facebook and Twitter. But it’s the role of museums to explain artworks and to give visitors the information they need to understand them.”
The 33-ton, nearly 40-foot-tall inhabitable sculpture has been on view in the German city of Bochum as part of the Ruhrtriennale for the past month and a half, without incident. It was to be presented in the Louvre-adjacent Jardin des Tuileries as part of the FIAC fair later this month, by the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, and van Lieshout was set to live inside the work for a month and create new sculptures over the course of the public exhibition. Despite the efforts of Paris’s municipal government, no alternative venue could be found for the carnal construction. In a statement sent to Hyperallergic, Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s cofounders, Julien Lombrail and Loïc Le Gaillard, blasted the decision as censorship.
“This unexpected and late decision, is obviously very damaging for the artist and the FIAC program,” Lombrail and Le Gaillard stated. “The artwork symbolizes the power of humanity over the world and its hypocritical approach to nature. It pays tribute to the ingenuity, the sophistication and the capacities of humanity, in its power of organisation, and the use of this power to dominate, through the domestication of the natural environment.”
Perhaps, given a little more time to find an alternative venue for “Domestikator,” another institution would have gotten behind it.