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Paul McCarthy, Tree, 2014

Who cannot recount this year’s scandal in Paris?
American artist Paul McCarthy was commissioned a sculpture for the FIAC Contemporary Art Fair. His inflatable tree, erected in Place Vendôme, instantly became object of hatred and scorn by Parisians and French art critics, who believed it to be too much like a giant butt plug. Hence the vandalistic action that caused McCarthy tree to deflate, just one day after its installation, last October.

Tate Britain’s Christmas trees were instead far away from such a bad public response. Over the course of 23 years, each winter the Tate has commissioned leading artists to create a tree for its circular hall. Nicholas Serota, shortly after being appointed director of the Tate, in 1988, had started this much appreciated tradition by commissioning the first tree to Bill Woodrow.

Bill Woodrow, 1988

Bill Woodrow, Tree, 1988

Amongst the most creative and amusing commissions are the 1993 upside-down tree by Turner Prize winner Shirazeh Houshiary, Cathy de Monchaux’s 20ft high tree, made up of swathed canvas (1994) and Michael Landy’s polemical ‘garbage tree’ (1997), disposed in a dustbin to underline the spirit of consumerism that reign over Christmas time.

In 2010 conceptual artist Giorgio Sadotti presented a plain tree with a bullwhip wrapped around the base, and this was the last of the series, unfortunately. Tate Britain still offers fancy cards but those are far away from being as impressive and stimulating as the trees. Maybe, as hard times roll, Landy’s hint to consumerism had made Tate rethink over the whole tree idea. Too bad for us.

Caterina Berardi

Photo credits: The Guardian, The Telegraph

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