Rotterdam has a knack for nicknames. The Swan, the Towel, the Vomit Bowl are just some of the nicknamed locations in the city. This sculpture by Paul McCarthy is formally a Santa Claus holding a Xmas tree. But it’s not hard to understand how it got its nickname. As Barbara Streisand once said, “Art does not exist only to entertain – but also to challenge one to think, to provoke, even to disturb”. Well, it doesn’t get more disturbing than the 6-meter tall Kabouter Buttplug, aka Buttplug Gnome.
Originally it was intended to be placed at the entrance to the Doelen theatre. But even Rotterdam, not strange to the extraordinary, was a bit uncomfortable with this work thrusted into such a prominent public space. For a while, the Gnome guarded the entrance to the Boijmans van Beuningen museum. Plans to move it to the Koopgoot met resistance, and eventually, it settled down at its current location.
According to Paul McCarthy, the Buttplug Gnome is inspired by an actual device he once received as a joke gift. Although with its rounded forms it is quite subtle, it is rather difficult to ignore. Standing proudly and erectly on the square, it is stuck there like… errr.. well, you get the gist. If art is meant to challenge and to be difficult to accept, this one certainly does the trick.