28 november: Santa Claus finds a Permanent New Home

After many years at the centre of thorny debate, Santa Claus, the renowned sculpture by Paul McCarthy, is being relocated to a definitive new home on the Eendrachtsplein, having spent three years in asylum in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s courtyard and a brief stop-over on the pavement alongside the museum entrance. Santa Claus will be transported to his permanent new home on Friday, 28 November 2008, accompanied in parade by the Binnenweg Association (Vereniging De Binnenweg, which represents retailers on one of the country’s longest shopping streets), the new guardian angels of Santa Claus.
Though Paul McCarthy created this artwork (2001-2005) especially for Rotterdam city centre, Rotterdam Municipal Council deemed it unsuitable for installation in the public space.

The Binnenweg Association
Driven by several proactive shopkeepers, the Binnenweg Association pulled out all the stops to win this monumental bronze by Paul McCarthy for ‘downtown’ Rotterdam, as they refer to their quarter. On 10 June 2008, after Sculpture International Rotterdam (SIR) had conducted a study into various potential sites, the Municipal Executive gave the green light for the installation of the sculpture at the Eendrachtsplein. This plaza interlinks the Nieuwe and Oude Binnenweg, it is set between the heart of the city and the ‘downtown’ area, and it borders on the museum quarter. This location also incorporates Santa Claus into the Westersingel sculpture route, which runs from Rotterdam’s Central Station to the River Maas.

Santa’s self-criticism
Standing six metres tall, this black-patinated bronze based on hackneyed depictions of Father Christmas and garden gnomes brandishes a Christmas tree/buttplug in his right hand and dangles a bell in the other. Father Christmas is the ideal butt of McCarthy’s social critique: the perfect symbol of sentimentality and convivial good cheer, of magnificent commercial success and consumerism, a symbol of and/or for the USA. Using all the force he can muster as an artist, in his work McCarthy insistently attacks such symbols, and in his films he often plays the role of the target himself.

This Father Christmas, a somewhat ‘formless’ massivity for Rotterdam with its unmistakable nod to the Statue of Liberty, is a perplexing object: the heavy boots, the black bell, the fixed grin of a garden gnome along with a phallus-like form – black instead of the festive red and green one might expect – held languidly on high. Father Christmas groans under the burden of his own mass and the ballast of his worldly goods.
Santa Claus is a monumental exaggeration of Father Christmas and gnome, a ‘devotional image’ (Andachtsbild) for the lethargic consumer of today. It is a topical artwork that displays a rather gruesome and humoristic luxuriousness for the public space.

Santa newspaper
In commemoration of the turbulent history that Santa has endured since arriving in Rotterdam in 2001 – witness a flurry of coverage and controversy in various media – a Santa Claus newspaper is to be published, presenting a selection of newspaper articles plus a column by Jennifer Allen. The newspaper will be distributed in Rotterdam city centre.

Festive programme
There is a celebratory programme of activities on Friday, 28 November in honour of Santa’s relocation, including a matinee screening of Paul McCarthy’s Painter (1995) at the Lantaren/Venster cinema, a lecture by Ton Bevers (Professor in Cultural Sociology at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University) at the Arminius platform for art, culture and debate, and a parade along the Nieuwe Binnenweg. This culminates in the sculpture’s definitive installation in the evening, floodlit by the Public Works Department’s heavy-duty lights and hoisting-cranes.

Publicatiedatum: 12/05/2015