Visitors to the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris were greeted by an arresting sight last month: An array of formerly-nude sculptures now clad in tasteful g-strings.
It’s a little unclear exactly how the underwear wound up on the statues, but it appears to boil down to a misunderstanding between UNESCO and the artist, Stéphane Simon.
The statues are part of an exhibit called “In Memory of Me,” depicting nude male forms posed as though taking selfies. Several of the statues were positioned at UNESCO for European Heritage Days on September 21 and 22, when the agency celebrates cultural innovators throughout Europe. It was at this point that the underwear was added.
"The question of the nudity of the statues was raised,” Simon told the French news site CheckNews. “I understand that can be disturbing. So I proposed to stay, during Heritage Days, nearby with a cloth and, if necessary, depending on the visitors, to hide the sex of the statues.”
UNESCO representatives reportedly didn’t understand what Simon was proposing, and engaged in a confused back-and-forth via email chain, trying to figure out if they were talking about a permanent covering. The night before the statues were to be unveiled, Simon finally came up with the idea of covering them with skimpy underwear.
Initial reports described Simon as “un peu déçu,” a little disappointed, but he clarified that he was “consterné,” upset, about the situation.
For their part, UNESCO say that if they had fully understood the situation, they would not have asked him to cover the statues and would have allowed them to be exhibited as-is.
Nevertheless, photos of the underwear-clad statues have drawn ridicule online, with visitors speculating about how the g-strings could even have been slipped over the base. Others criticized the exhibition for being puritanical.
“That’s how the fall of the Roman Empire began,” one tweet said.