PARIS, France — French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday condemned the vandalism at a Paris exhibition of a controversial painting that critics see as depicting pedophilia.
The painting by Swiss artist Miriam Cahn, entitled “Fuck abstraction!,” was covered in purple spray paint on Sunday at the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum, where it has been on display since mid-February.
It shows a small person with their hands tied behind their back being forced to perform oral sex on a larger, faceless, powerful man.
Cahn says it is a representation of rape as a weapon of war and a crime against humanity but several children’s rights groups have denounced it as child pornography and pedophilia.
In a statement on Twitter, Macron “condemned the act of vandalism carried out yesterday at the Palais de Tokyo.”
“Targeting a work of art is an attack on our values. In France, art is always free and respect for artistic creation is guaranteed,” he added.
Legal bids to have the painting removed have been rejected in the French courts.
En ce 8 mai, où nous célébrons la victoire de la liberté, j'avoue avoir un petit faible pour la nouvelle version de "Fuck Abstraction" qui incarne parfaitement la liberté de dire non à la pédocriminalité. pic.twitter.com/SqDuUWKfip
— Karl Zero Absolu (@karlitozero) May 8, 2023
The perpetrator of the spray paint attack, described as elderly according to a source close to the case, was “unhappy with the sexual portrayal of a child and an adult presented in the painting” but was not affiliated with an activist group.
The Palais de Tokyo said it would keep the painting on show with traces of the damage visible. The exhibition, which ends on May 14, has attracted 80,000 visitors so far.
Cahn has also carried out her own protest in the art world. In 2021, she decided to pull her paintings from one of Switzerland’s largest art museums over its decision to permanently house a controversial Nazi-era collection.
Cahn wrote a letter published by the Jewish weekly Tachles saying she no longer wanted her work displayed at Zurich’s Kunsthaus museum.
The controversy centered on one of Europe’s most prestigious private art collections, which was acquired by industrialist Emil Buhrle during World War II.