Paris Place Pops with Plug

Paris -- A huge, green, inflatable sculpture by American artist, Paul McCarthy, installed on Place Vendôme, has raised a storm for its resemblance to a sex toy, with the artist attacked in the street.

The sculpture is the centerpiece of the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC), which celebrates its 41st anniversary this year.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network arriving for the Fair are greeted by this provocative art installation.

Tree also coincides with the opening of "Chocolate Factory," the artist's first solo survey in France, which in turn coincides with the grand re-opening of the Monnaie de Paris.

The organizing theme for this special celebration of contemporary art in Paris appears to be what the French call le plug: Not only does Tree bear an uncanny resemblance to a sex toy, "Chocolate Factory" will see workers produce thousands of chocolate figurines of Santa Claus holding this "emblem."

Chiara Parisi, head of cultural programs for Monnaie de Paris, calls the piece un grand fantasme. It's easy to laugh at the sentiment; after all, we are talking about butt plugs.

McCarthy's piece, and McCarthy's work writ large, should remind viewers of what we can and cannot say and do in the public sphere. Tree would be unthinkable in any square in any city in the U.S.—period.

McCarthy told French newspaper Le Monde that his work entitled 'Tree' had been inspired both by a sex toy and a Christmas tree.

When he went to see it on Place Vendôme, a man slapped his face before running away, the paper says.

But social media is crackling with jokes about the 24m (79ft) inflatable installation.

McCarthy, 69, whose previous installations have shocked viewers in the Netherlands and Switzerland, told Le Monde in an interview (in French) that Tree was an "abstract work" rooted in a joke about a sex toy.

The new sculpture stands near the Vendôme Column

The stranger, who slapped him three times, shouted that he was not French and that his work had "no business being on the square", the paper writes.

Unhurt but shocked by the assault, McCarthy asked: "Does this kind of thing happen often in France?"

The attack was condemned by bloggers on social media, as "Vendôme" continued to trend on French Twitter on Friday, the day after Tree was installed.

"You have to be really dumb to attack the artist Paul McCarthy for his work on Place Vendome, whether you like it or not," wrote one.

Indignant comments about Tree itself included "Place Vendôme defaced!" and "Paris humiliated!"

The square with its towering Column -- Napoleon's monument to the Battle of Austerlitz (closed until next year for restoration) -- is famous for luxury hotels such as the Ritz, and high-end retailers like Van Cleef and Arpels.

Other bloggers gleefully punned on the word 'sapin' - the French word for fir tree but also the surname of Michel Sapin, the cabinet minister presiding over France's ailing finances.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video pops with this big Vendôme erection. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUUNCikWiDM&sns=em