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Turds on the Run

We generally try to avoid stepping in it, and perhaps even talking about it, but some shit is so good it cannot be passed over. It demands our attention, refusing to be ignored. According to a recent news item in, an immense inflatable sculpture by American artist Paul McCarthy, as big as the side of a barn and installed in an outdoor summer exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland, was recently torn from its moorings during a violent storm. Strong winds propelled it over 600 feet, forcing down a power line and breaking a greenhouse window before it came to rest in the front yard of a nearby orphanage.

And here's where fact, once again, proves stranger than fiction. The McCarthy piece, entitled Complex Shit, is fashioned to look like a huge pile of doggie doo. To borrow from the vernacular, you just can't make shit like this up.

Museum officials report a fail safe mechanism was engineered into the inflatable sculpture, to let the air out it in extreme weather conditions, precisely to prevent it from running amok in a storm. But for reasons unknown, and to the embarrassment of authorities, the safety device failed to operate. The piece still requires potty training in a very public way. And since the incident occurred on July 31 but details are only now being released to the press, a moratorium of almost two weeks is evident. Was there some attempt to quietly flush away the offending memory before it started to smell?

If your mind swiftly conjures up images of harried townsfolk running in terror before the rampaging turds, be advised that press coverage, just beginning to accumulate, also tends to the lurid and the hilariously astonished, labeling the incident "Turdzilla" and having a field day with the expected puns: "The Shit Hits the Fan", "That's Some Dangerous Shit" and "Raising a Stink".

With various Chocolate Santas, butt plugs and anally oriented elves firmly established in his repertoire, McCarthy is no stranger to scatological imagery. In fact, one is hard pressed to name another artist in the international arena, a recognized star feted from biennial to biennale to art fair to prestigious curated exhibition, whose work is so closely identified with images of shit and its discontents, with a naughty, transgressive urge to overstep the bounds of fecal propriety. In a brief text on its website, the Klee Center cites McCarthy's piece as "subverting the otherwise harmonious landscape". But even their wildest dreams could not have anticipated what finally went down: renegade turds flying wildly through town, terrorizing hapless pedestrians, orphans and property owners, spreading uncertainty and fear in the generally well ordered environs of Mitteleuropa.

Juri Steiner, director of the Zentrum Klee, is quoted as saying that McCarthy had not yet been informed of the fate of his work, with no decision made on reinstalling it in the center's garden. But the latest news update from the BBC indicates that the sculpture will remain on display as part of the exhibition East of Eden. A Garden Show, scheduled to stay up through October 26. Which is ample time to determine whether the newly controversial Complex Shit will draw more flies.

Jeff Koons has also created large inflatables, notably his shiny, silver Rabbit balloon from last year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, itself modeled on a three foot tall stainless steel sculpture executed in 1986.

But this inflatable was intended to soar above our heads, securely handled by a team of wranglers, for the delight of children of all ages. A far cry from dog turds wreaking havoc in a small Swiss city and terrifying its citizens. For reasons of safety, and to satisfy the obvious narrative arc, perhaps the best pairing with Complex Shit, now that it has hopefully been securely pinioned, would be with a more earthbound Koons sculpture: Puppy.