An art scandal that has captured France has taken another dramatic turn, with a court in the country swiftly ruling that Paris’s Palais de Tokyo is allowed to continue exhibiting a painting that has been accused of promoting pedophilia.
The work, titled fuck abstraction !, is a new painting produced by the Swiss artist Miriam Cahn, who is currently the subject of one of the biggest shows of her career at the museum. The painting features a muscular figure being fellated by a smaller one whose hands are bound.
A statement from Cahn that is included in the show notes that the work is meant as a commentary on humans rights crimes being enacted by Russians in Ukraine. She further stated that she had painted the work after seeing images of mass graves in Bucha, as well as reports of rapes of women and children in Ukraine.
Of the painting, Cahn has said, “this is a person whose hands are tied, raped before being killed and thrown into the street. The repetition of violence during wars is not intended to shock but to denounce.”
But many conservatives in France chose to view the painting otherwise, claiming that the smaller figure is a minor and that, in showing the painting, Cahn and the Palais de Tokyo are encouraging the exploitation of children. As a result, the painting has gone viral on social media, where posts decrying the work have racked up thousands of likes.
In one popular tweet, Caroline Parmentier, a politician who supported the ultra-conservative Marine Le Pen, wrote, “In the name of child protection, as a member of the Delegation for Children’s Rights, I ask the Minister of Culture that it be taken down.”
The furor surrounding fuck abstraction ! has grown so loud that even Rima Abdul Malak, the French cultural minister, has spoken out to defend it on the basis of freedom of expression.
Six children’s rights organizations subsequently lobbied a French court to have the Palais de Tokyo remove the painting from Cahn’s show. The case was heard on Monday, and no less than 24 hours later, the court decided in favor of the Palais de Tokyo and Cahn, ruling that the painting could remain on view.
“This work cannot be understood outside of its context and the work of the artist Miriam Cahn, which aims to denounce the horrors of war, as recalled in the presentation document of the event distributed to the public,” wrote the judge Sylvie Vidal, according to Libération.
Vidal also more bluntly spoke out against the claims that the painting sexualized children: “The painting is not child pornography. The fundamental freedoms at stake are freedom of expression and freedom of creation.”
The court also said that the Palais de Tokyo had done enough to prepare viewers for Cahn’s shocking art by providing warning texts.
Cahn’s work has frequently relied upon provocation to respond to conflicts around the world, antisemitism, racism, and other forms of prejudice. Sexual violence recurs in her work, often as a commentary on the horrors enacted upon women by men, and similar works have recently been seen in retrospectives across Europe and in editions of two of the world’s biggest art festivals, the Venice Biennale and Documenta.
Following the court’s decision, the Palais de Tokyo said it planned to keep fuck abstraction ! on view through the end of the show’s run in May. So far, according to the museum, 45,000 people have seen the show.
“The Palais de Tokyo regrets the instrumentalization of this work of art and the contempt for the fundamental role of museums around the world in the respect of human rights,” the museum said in a statement. “This painting was shown in context, distributed widely without authorization from either the artist or the Palais de Tokyo, in an erroneous and slanted manner, with thousands of internet users.”