President Emmanuel Macron has condemned an attack on a painting displayed at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris on 7 May. According to Le Monde, a man spray painted Fuck abstraction! by the Swiss artist Miriam Cahn, a work which has sparked fierce debate in France about the limits on artistic freedom. Cahn’s work shows a small figure, whose hands are bound, performing a sex act on a larger faceless individual.
Macron said on Twitter: “On 8 May, when we celebrate the victory of freedom [Victory Day], I condemn the act of vandalism committed yesterday at the Palais de Tokyo. To attack a work is to attack our values. In France, art is always free and respecting cultural creation is assured.” Rima Abdul Malak, France’s culture minister, told Franceinfo: “It’s a direct attack on freedom of expression, which is quite serious.”
The work features in a retrospective dedicated to Cahn, Ma Pensée Serielle, which opened in February; a spokesperson for the Palais de Tokyo confirmed that the defaced controversial painting will remain on view until the exhibition closes on 14 May. More than 80,000 visitors have attended the show so far.
In March, a French court rejected a lawsuit brought against the Palais de Tokyo by a group of organisations led by the Association Juristes de l’Enfance (Lawyers for Childhood). They alleged that the painting promoted paedophilia, stressing that the smaller figure in the work is a child.
The judge, Sylvie Vidal, ruled that Cahn’s work refers to crimes committed in Bucha, Ukraine, during the Russian invasion. Cahn added in a statement: "This painting deals with the way in which sexuality is used as a weapon of war, as a crime against humanity.” The group of plaintiffs later appealed the decision in the French Council of State, the country’s highest administrative jurisdiction, but this was also thrown out a month later.
The Palais de Tokyo says in a statement that both rulings stated that “the sole intention of the artist is to denounce a crime and that the Palais de Tokyo has [outlined] precautions aimed at unaccompanied minors… the [institution] also provides prior to seeing the work elements of context.” Guillaume Désanges, the president of the Palais de Tokyo, says in a statement: “We regret the extreme consequences of this polemic [debate] which has been damaging for the artist and the public.”