Giant sculpture proves 'too rude' for Louvre but not the edgier Pompidou

Henry Samuel
Pedestrians walk in front of the art work by Dutch artist Joep Van Lieshout,

A giant sculpture apparently showing a humanoid having sex with a four-legged creature has been deemed "too rude" for display at the Louvre museum.

However, the risqué edifice has been adopted by Paris' edgier Pompidou Centre, which insists it is "spiritual" rather than "obscene".

Domestikator, the geometric rust-red work by Dutch sculptor Joep van Lieshout, appears to resemble a box-shaped human copulating with either a box-shaped animal or perhaps another person.

It is one of 70 sculptures erected around the French capital as part of the annual International Contemporary Art Fair or FIAC.

People queue in front of the art work by Dutch artist Joep Van Lieshout, "Domestikator"in front of The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris on October 18, 2017. Credit: ALAIN JOCARD/AFP

The work, a towering 12 metres (40 feet) tall, was initially due to be exhibited in the Tuileries garden that runs from the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde.

But the Louvre's president Jean-Luc Martinez got cold feet at the last minute.

In a letter to FIAC's organisers, he said that internet posts about the sculpture had created "an erroneous perception of this work that might be too rude for the traditional crowd in the Tuileries garden" - which welcome throngs of French and foreign tourists. 

The work had a "brutal aspect", he added. “It risks being misunderstood by visitors" to the gardens, where a string of other art works are on display this week.

A piece entitled 'Famille Ursini' by Swedish artist Erik Dietman is displayed at the Parc des Tuileries, as part of the Hors les Murs outdoor program of the FIAC 2017 (International Contemporary Art Fair) in Paris, France, 18 October 2017. Credit: ETIENNE LAURENT/EPA

However, its racy nature proved no problem for the Pompidou Centre, a hub of modern art famed for its gaudy external tubing and transparent outside escalators.

Praising Van Lieshout's sculpture as "a magnificent utopia in harmony with the public space", the Pompidou's director Bernard Blistene said his museum would welcome it with open arms.

“Obscene, pornographic? Well, obscenity is everywhere, pornography, sadly, is everywhere, certainly not in this work of art," a defiant Mr Blistene told Reuters.

“This work of art is funny, it is an obvious nod to the relationship of abstraction and figurative painting that co-exist in Dutch art in the 20th century. Spiritual yes, obscene no.”

Visitors to the centre seemed mainly unfazed by the sculpture made of wood, steel and fibreglass.

"I think it really belongs anywhere," Canadian tourist Rita Sliven told AFP. "It's for people to look, to discuss, to be provoked to come out of their dream state."

But Didier Casiglio, an artist from the southern city of Montpellier, was less sure.

"It would be better in the forest or in a park. Here it's a bit raw," he said.

Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout poses for photographs in front of his sculpture "Domestikator", displayed in the plaza outside the Centre Pompidou modern art museum in Paris, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017. Credit: Thibault Camus/AP

Van Lieshout, for his part, said: "I hope that it will generate questions and dialogue around the questions raised by domestication in our world."

The debate around the work comes three years after a giant inflatable sculpture resembling a sex toy was unveiled in an upmarket Paris square home to the Ritz hotel.

Tree, a piece by US artist Paul McCarthy, but which critics slammed as a giant "butt plug", had to be placed under guard after being vandalised.