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Icons of Rotterdam: #1 the Butt Plug Gnome

by Jasper de Haan

No, you are not hallucinating: right there on a busy shopping street stands a giant gnome holding a peculiar object. In 2001 many locals thought to themselves: it’s a butt plug! The city council wasn’t having any of it; they decreed that it had to be placed somewhere less visible.

A first attempt to obscure the statue was donating it to the neighboring town of Barendrecht, maybe expecting that the citizens of that good town live a more sheltered life and would not make the butt plug association? However, eventually our gnome was banished to the courtyard of the Boijmans Museum. It took until 2008 for the Butt Plug Gnome to return to public life. He was heralded back like a true diva with a small parade and was erected at the Eendrachtsplein.

The statue was made by the L.A. based artist Paul McCarthy and is actually named Santa Claus. It is meant as a commentary on current day consumerism, but with a wink. When questioned about his work McCarthy replied: “My work is more about being a clown than a shaman”. We think he hit the nail on the head in this case. However, there is some irony in the fact that the local shop owners were most enthusiastic about the arrival of this playful feller. They rightly realised that it would draw a crowd.

By now Rotterdam has made peace with the Butt Plug Gnome and even subjects him to the occasional fancy dress party. In 2010 for instance, during the Grand Départ of the Tour de France from Rotterdam, he wore a yellow jersey made by a ladies knitting club. For the coronation of King Willem Alexander in 2014 he was fitted with a red robe (see picture) and later that year he wore Lederhosen

What may be easier to miss is that at a stone’s cast away from our peculiar leprechaun, there are sculptures by much more famous artists: Auguste Rodin and Pablo Piccaso for instance. Walking along the right side of the Westersingel from the Central Station, you will find an actual sculpture trail. The start of it is also visible from the terrace of café de Unie.

Walking from our sex gnome to the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen you will pass a big sculpture based on a design by Picasso. This too was part of a controversy; back in 1963 the purchase was blocked. In 1970 it was finally acquired. And because history repeats itself, right now there is a new controversy with locals protesting. The city has made plans to place two giant ‘balls’ (globes actually) in front of the Central Station, but some people think the square should be left empty. Do you see the pattern…?

If you are interested in a guided tour along the sculptures of Rotterdam, you can for instance contact Leijnse Stadstours. They offer a variety of options.


Translation: Jasper de Haan, Teun Botterweg and Avril Hensen.
Photography: Teun Botterweg.