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The Counter-Currents 2014 Summer Fundraiser 
“Up Yours”: The War on Art Joins the War on Christmas

911 words

Paul McCarthy's Tree, 2014

Paul McCarthy’s Tree, 2014

Since our last update on our Summer Fundraiser, just over a month ago, we have received 31 donations totaling $2,200 in amounts ranging from $10 to $1000. Of that amount, $234.06 will be matched by our Swedish matching grant benefactor, for a total of $2,434.06. Our total is now $33,982. We are $6,018 from our goal of $40,000 with 11 days to go. 

So far, this fundraiser has strolled along in a leisurely way without needing a lot of cheerleading and updates. I think that is a testament to the loyalty of our readers. But if we are going to make our goal by Halloween, I am going to have to break a sweat by going into telethon mode. Fortunately, I know a lot of donors hold back to the end to see how things are going. So from now till Halloween, expect daily updates, with a bit of “blogging” as your bonus for clicking and reading.

The very generous matching grant of our Swedish benefactor has now been used up, so now would be a good time for another matching grant to send us over our goal.

* * *

In 2012, I was walking my dog through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and I came across an art and craft show in the sunken plaza between the Academy of Sciences and the new De Young Museum (which looks like a rusted aircraft carrier scuttled in the park). As I wandered among the tables, looking at the wares, my dog blithely lifted his leg and peed on the one-millionth inept impressionistic rendering of the Golden Gate Bridge, which had been placed on the sidewalk, leaning against a table. I yanked him back, and, ascertaining that he had gone unnoticed, muttered “Everyone’s a critic” and swiftly exited the scene.

SantaButtPlugThis callous tale is actually apropos of recent events. On Thursday, October 16th, the war on art joined the war on Christmas in Paris’ Place Vendôme when a 79-foot-tall inflatable sculpture called Tree was erected as part of the annual Fiac art fair.

In fact, Tree is just a giant butt plug. There is no room for interpretation here. American artist Paul McCarthy, who specializes in such tasteless displays, actually combined Santa and a butt plug in 2001 for the Rotterdam Symphony Hall. (It was banished to a park.)

Art critic Colin Liddell nailed McCarthy’s intention:

In its inception, it was supposed to be a subtle in-joke for the cognoscenti, those Bohemian and urban elites familiar with aberrant sexual practices, or at least those with a knowledge of such: a Xmas tree that was also a giant anal plug. LOL! What could be wittier than that?

I am sure that McCarthy and his enablers sniggered at the thought of innocent Parisian families posing for photographs with their children in front of a giant butt plug, thinking it just a wholesome Christmas tree.

The joke might have worked back in the 1980s or ’90s, when people were still naive enough not to know what a butt plug is. But in today’s atmosphere of peak decadence and social media, McCarthy’s intention was transparent, and outraged reactions were swift in coming.

At the erection of Tree, McCarthy was slapped in the face three times by one art critic, and over the weekend, some other art critics sabotaged the air pump and cut the cables holding the butt plug erect, causing it to slump flaccid to the pavement.

The chattering classes, of course, exploded with outrage at this act of “vandalism.” But this reaction exposes them as philistines. For if the concept of art can be loosened to encompass McCarthy’s 79-foot butt plug, then surely the concept of art criticism can be expanded as well.

If this is art . . .

If this is art . . .

If Chris Olifi can sell “art” encrusted with elephant dung, who’s to say that a bit of dog urine is not just as good as an essay by Clement Greenberg or Arthur Danto? If it is art for Chris Burden to be crucified on the roof of a Volkswagen, then why is it not art criticism to smack Paul McCarthy’s smug mug? If there is such thing as “auto-destructive art,” then why isn’t it just a particularly cutting review to literally deflate the pretensions of Tree? Let’s call it Performance Criticism. May it flourish.

. . . this is art criticism

. . .  then this is art criticism

This year’s war on Christmas has opened with an inspiring act of resistance. So kudos to the new Performance Critics. And up yours, to Paul McCarthy and his kind.

* * *

If you have not made a donation to our Summer fundraiser yet, now is a good time. You can make two different types of donations:

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Please give generously!

Thank you for your loyal readership and support.

Greg Johnson



  1. Remnant
    Posted October 21, 2014 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Off topic but…. Greg: from your introduction to the upcoming Colin Cleary volume, it appears that his eight-part essay on Wagner will not be included in that book. Is that correct, and if so is there any possibility at this point that it could be included in the book?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 23, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      The Cleary essay will go in a later Collin Cleary volume.

  2. Ulf Larsen
    Posted October 21, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Greg, you should really consider putting the Amazon affiliate link in the right column of this page again. A while ago, when I was ordering something from Amazon, I had a hard time finding the link; and today, a friend asked me if your affiliate program was cancelled, because he couldn’t find the link. You might be losing some money because of that.

  3. Jaego
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    Please walk your dog more often. You could pretend to be blind and become a kind of Longstreet of the Art World, a one man/dog team dispensing golden liquid justice on all such evil doers. Justice is Blind after all, and if caught you could plead for sympathy even as your dog snickers.
    The only regret is that your dog trusty stream can’t reach so much of the “art” hanging in most of the museums.

  4. Bruce
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Creators of degenerate art should be in jail or worse.

    This is just one more reason why our ideas are so crucial. How can a non-identitarian society possibly create great art? Even if great art were being created, who would recognize it? How would the people be able to relate to it? How could it be assimilated by the nation and contribute to its history? What kind of civilization can possibly survive this way?

    Any kind of artistic creations that have real meaning are probably being done in some sub-cultural niches that most of us will never know about. The greater society itself is just a desert.

  5. rhondda
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Even though the Christmas tree has be secularized to mean just a family get together, it still resonates with both Pagans and Christians to mean more that just consumerism. Whether it is the birth of Christ or the new Sun, the tree abstracted to a butt plug is just Freudianism taken to the extreme of adolescence.
    I would like to give a round of applause for the art critics of Paris, especially the one who slapped his face. We need more art critics. Like a child caught in the act, he slinks away and cannot even defend his art. I wish him a tumble into oblivion.

  6. Stronza
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    How is it that so many people in Paris (and here, too) apparently knew right away that this was not a Christmas tree, but a butt plug? I would not have known. I don’t know anything about butt plugs, I have never seen one, not even in a photo. Why should I even know about their existence?

    Why do so many people seemingly know about butt plugs? What is wrong with me? (I’m middle aged.) Should I be ashamed at my lack of life experience, my embarrassing naivete?

    To this day, I don’t know what their purpose is. I refuse to go to google and type in “butt plugs – function”. So, dear friends here at counter-currents, help me out.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 23, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      I’m afraid this is a question for Google. I won’t have that kind of discussion thread here!

    • rhondda
      Posted October 23, 2014 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      Don’t google it Stronza. You do not want to know. Trust me only the male mind could think such a thing and convince women it is enjoyable. Let them play with each other.

  7. me
    Posted October 24, 2014 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi – It’s been a while since I last read articles from two of my favorite writers – Greg Hood and Andrew Hamilton. How come we aren’t seeing their latest articles? Are they taking a holiday from writing?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted October 24, 2014 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

      I am not sure what is going on with either writer.

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