A controversial painting by Swiss artist Miriam Cahn that was on display at an exhibition in Paris was vandalized by spray paint on Sunday, the Palais de Tokyo said.
Titled “Fucking Abstraction!”, on view since mid-February, the painting depicts a man with his hands tied behind his back being forced to perform oral sex on a faceless powerful man.
Critics said the victim in the painting depicted a child, a claim Kahn denied, claiming it was a representation of rape as a weapon of war and a crime against humanity.
Several children’s rights groups condemned the painting as child pornography and demanded that it be withdrawn.
But their application to have it removed was rejected in French courts.
A man “intentionally vandalized” the work “by spraying purple paint” on Sunday, the museum told AFP.
The man, described as elderly, was “displeased with the sexual depictions of children and adults” presented in the painting, but has no connection to the activist group, according to a source close to the case.
He was “immediately arrested by security personnel … and taken away by the police,” the museum said, adding that it would file a complaint for damage to property and obstruction of freedom of expression.
Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak said in a statement that the artwork displayed in this case had been approved by the judicial system to be displayed to the public.
“We regret the extreme consequences of this controversy,” said Guillaume de Sangues, president of the Palais de Tokyo, which aims to “support the arts…with passion, awareness and responsibility for all audiences. ”
“In agreement with the artist, the Palais de Tokyo will continue to display the painting and the exhibition,” it said in a statement, which has attracted 80,000 visitors, “until the end of the season, on May 14. There are signs of damage”.
France’s top administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, rejected a legal request to have the painting removed in April.
Given that the painting was on display in an art gallery, “accompanied by detailed background information, (it) did not seriously or manifestly unlawfully prejudice the best interests of children or human dignity”, it ruled.
The artist himself hit back at criticism of the work in a statement issued by the museum in March.
“They’re not kids,” Kahn insisted. She added: “This painting speaks to the way in which sexuality is used as a weapon of war, a crime against humanity.”