From The Gherkin in London to a perverse Santa in Rotterdam.
Humanity is naturally drawn to really big versions of things and really small versions of things. Maps condense enormous areas into one piece of paper; model railways let cities exist within the confines of a room; enormous vegetables win prizes; souvenir stores bulge with oversized stationery.
And sometimes those giant things are giant versions of things that people put in their bottoms for fun.
30 St Mary Axe, a.k.a. “The Gherkin”, London
Obviously, a key element of the design of any butt plug is a flared base, essential to make sure the whole thing doesn’t get mislaid anywhere it shouldn’t. While buildings don’t tend to have these, it doesn’t stop them from regularly being compared to the intimate implements. While it officially goes by its badass-sounding address, 30 St Mary Axe is better known locally as “the gherkin”, after small pickled cucumbers sometimes eaten with fish and chips, similar to dill pickles. However, several nicknames were tried out in the press before the Gherkin stuck: the lengthier “Erotic Gherkin”, the clever-but-what-a-mouthful “Towering Innuendo”, the equally-clever-but-confusing “Crystal Phallus”, and the fairly straightforward “Butt Plug”. It will soon be dwarfed by “The Tulip”, a 1000-foot-tall building, the design of which has been compared to, uh, a sperm.
Torre Glòries, Barcelona
Formerly known as Torre Agbar, this 38-story skyscraper was inspired by the idea of a geyser erupting from beneath the ground, and is cheerfully described as “phallic” by its architect, Jean Nouvel. It is known locally as “el supositorio”, or “the suppository”, the most G-rated way of referring to it looking like it was designed to be taken rectally. At night it lights up, unsubtly prodding the Catalan sky. Another piece of work by Nouvel, a perfume bottle design for Yves Saint-Laurent, was described by Architectural Review as “a sort of mechanic’s butt plug”.
Public art always faces a lot of criticism—you can’t please all of the people all of the time, especially when it comes to using taxpayers’ money to fund creative projects. Sometimes comparing a piece of public art to a butt plug is a lazy jab, but sometimes it’s a fairly valid observation of what the object resembles. This sculpture in Nottingham, for instance, or this one in Kingston, London. Even a collection of buoys in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast, Northern Ireland have had butt plug accusations (assusations?) leveled at them. But if you are in Canberra and giving someone directions, you’re simply not going to refer to the Droplet by its real name. You’re going to say, “Turn left at the giant light-up butt plug.”
Kabouter Buttplug, Rotterdam
This sculpture is officially known as Santa Claus but is better known to Rotterdam residents as Kabouter Buttplug, or the butt plug gnome. Designed by American artist Paul McCarthy, the 13-foot statue depicts a bearded Santa holding a stylized Christmas tree – a Christmas tree so stylized, in fact, that it doesn’t resemble a Christmas tree at all. Despite initial objections when it was unveiled, which led to it being relocated within the city a few times, it is now a permanent Rotterdam landmark. It was the subject of a paper in Social & Cultural Geography, which was published in multiple languages – it turns out the Spanish name for the Butt Plug Gnome is el ‘Gnomo del Dilatador Anal’.
Another piece of work by Paul McCarthy, who has a real thing about Christmas, Tree was a 79-foot high inflatable Christmas tree slash butt plug, displayed in Paris in 2014. It immediately drew enormous controversy – McCarthy has a history of sexually provocative, boundary-pushing works (one of which involved inserting a Barbie doll into his rectum, an extremely poor idea when there are products designed specifically for that, something he is aware of) and made no attempt to play coy or pretend it was an accidental resemblance, freely admitting he made an enormous festive butt plug as a joke. It was damaged by vandals after just two days, but there was a happy ending for some people—one Parisian sex shop owner reportedly enjoyed a 2,000% increase in butt plug sales.