ROTTERDAM – The most controversial image that Rotterdam knew, while it hasn't even been posted yet, does not get a place in the open. Santa Claus by Paul McCarthy, that has now been renamed "Gnome Buttplug" by the people of Rotterdam, does not fit in the intended location next to concert hall De Doelen, ruled the council.

It is not yet clear where the picture will be placed now. The City Party has proposed to place the statue in the garden of Museum Boijmans.

Rarely did an image stir up so much in Rotterdam. At the museum night, last week, Three quarters of the visitors indicated that they do not like the statue.

The statue consists of a kind of Santa Claus, holding a sex attribute in his right hand (buttplug) holds. And the latter is what many people find distasteful.

Liveable Rotterdam called it “nonsense to place such an idiotic work of art for such an amount of money. The Christenunie-SGP described it as exceeding “the permissible” and the CDA called the picture “hideous”.

After it was announced last month that the municipality of Rotterdam had purchased the statue, on the recommendation of the International Images Commission (IBC), the complaints letters and phone calls poured in.

Many people did not understand that the municipality 280.000 euros spent on the image.


The IBC has been around since 1999 working to bring a leading image to Rotterdam. Paul McCarthy soon came into the picture as one of the artists. The artist was released in the summer of 2000 invited to come to Rotterdam.

After the conversation, McCarthy came up with two proposals: a nineteenth-century American house on the water of the Nieuwe Maas, where people could actually spend the night. The other proposal was a big red Santa, with a Christmas tree and a bell in his hands.

At the request of the IBC, McCarthy further developed the Santa Claus plan. The picture would 6 tot 8 meters high should be in a red color. At the request of the committee, the artist replaced the Christmas tree with a "phallus symbol", what is now described by the public as "butt plug".

“The committee has expressed its preference for the proposal in red and a majority is in favor of the phallus element instead of the Fir Tree”

(Letter to Paul McCarthy, juli 2001)

McCarthy himself was not entirely sure whether Rotterdam would be ready for a remarkable image. "This is the Netherlands", the IBC said in a response to the artist. And the committee made a serious mistake about that.

Hoe ging het verder?

Despite the wishes of the city council, some other locations came out in the open in the period after the rejection. Eind 2004 the Binnenwegplein came into the picture, but an electronics chain in that square did not like the arrival of the image.

In the end it took until 2005 before a place was found for the controversial statue. Not in public places, but, as the City Party had more or less proposed, in the courtyard of Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.

At that time, the statue had already been in a warehouse at the Waalhaven for almost a year. At the last moment it was decided to give the red image the current black color.

Op 22 september 2005 the statue was hoisted in the courtyard and unveiled a few days later. As part of the agreement, Santa Claus was only allowed to stay at Boijmans for two years.

In het najaar van 2008 it was given a permanent place on the Eendrachtsplein. And that is a place in the Public Space, as the IBC has always envisioned.

Meanwhile, all the fuss around the statue has subsided somewhat. It is and remains a remarkable image, many people from Rotterdam think, but their image. And with that they have Santa Claus, or rather Gnome Buttplug, still closed in their arms.


Trouw – 07-03-2003 – Rotterdam dildoreus banned to museum

Santa claus – A Case Study into the Abject in Contemporary Art – Heleen Huisman – Master's study, Utrecht University

Author: Dave Datema

published: 06-03-2021

story number: 238

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