The giant green inflatable, entitled Tree, was sabotaged on Friday night as social media raged at its erection in Paris’s Place Vendôme, a square near the Louvre museum and the Tuileries gardens that is surrounded by expensive jewellers and plush hotels.
On Thursday the far-right Printemps français tweeted “Place Vendôme disfigured! Paris humiliated!”
Even as the work was inflated, a man assaulted the 69-year-old artist, running up to him and hitting him in the face three times while shouting that he was not French and had no place here.
“Does this sort of thing often happen in France?” a shaken McCarthy asked a reporter from Le Monde newspaper.
The work was commissioned by Paris’s annual art fair, the Fiac, which each year asks an artist to exhibit in a public place in the city.
McCarthy cheerfully recognises that its initial inspiration from a joke that started when he found that an anal plug resembled a work by 20th-century Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brancusi and then spotted a resemblance to a Christmas tree.
“But it’s an abstract work,” he told Le Monde, adding that “people can be offended if they want”.
Paris city council's culture chief, Bruno Julliard hit back with a tweet declaring, "The shame and humiliation for France is not the ephemeral inflatable work in the Place Vendôme. It's the imbeciles who damage it."
It is not the first time a structure in the Place Vendôme has been destroyed.
A column topped by a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte stands in the middle of the square and in 1871 the leaders of the Paris Commune ordered its demolition, judging that its celebration of French conquests in Europe and Africa were “an affirmation of militarism, a negation of international law, a permanent insult by the conquerors to the conquered”.
After the fall of the Commune it was reerected and a court ordered the artist Gustave Courbet, who had called for its removal to the Invalides military hospital, to pay for its reconstruction at a cost of 323,000 francs.
Courbet, an anarchist who had already had his goods seized and served six months in jail for his participation in the popular uprising, died before paying the first instalment.