Spanish artist Eugenio Merino sued over Franco punching ball sculpture

Defenders of late dictator sue over sculpture they claim is a grotesque attack on their hero

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 3:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 3:04am


First, he stuffed Spanish dictator Francisco Franco into a fridge. Now, he has transformed Franco's head into a punching ball.

Not surprisingly, 36-year-old Spanish artist Eugenio Merino's headline-grabbing works have won few fans among the late dictator's admirers.

Indeed, the National Francisco Franco Foundation, which sued unsuccessfully over Merino's earlier Franco-in-a-fridge sculpture, is taking him back to a court in outrage over his latest work Punching Franco.

The punching ball is a silicone representation of Franco's head, complete with dark sunglasses missing a lens. The head sits on top of a tall stand with a heavy base and a spring.

Punching Franco is now owned by a photographer but has returned to the artist's studio for repairs after its new owner's parrot nibbled away at the general's ears and nose.

It is vulgar and unworthy of civilisation and a supposed sculptor

"For people who were repressed or never won justice, it is a way to unburden themselves, a kind of catharsis," Merino said.

But the Franco Foundation, created in 1976, a year after Franco's death, to defend his legacy, does not see it in the same way.

Led by Franco's only child, the 87-year-old Maria del Carmen Franco y Polo, the foundation filed suit last month seeking US$16,000 in damages and a declaration that its honour has been hurt by the "grotesque and offensive" sculpture.

"It is in bad taste because that could be his father or mine, placed in such a way as to say: 'Break his nose, punch his head'," complained the foundation's deputy president, Jaime Alonso. "It is low, and vulgar, and unworthy of civilisation and a supposed sculptor."

The artist's lawyers say he is being harassed by the Franco Foundation's lawsuits.

In July, the Madrid court rejected a foundation lawsuit against Merino's Always Franco, a sculpture of Franco in green uniform and dark sunglasses with his knees bent inside a Coca-Cola-style fridge with a glass door.

In that case, the judge said Always Franco, which was the star attraction at a Madrid art fair in 2012, did not injure Franco's reputation and was the product of Merino's constitutionally protected right to artistic expression.

This time, Merino's lawyers say, the Franco Foundation is acting in bad faith, repeating the same arguments that have already been rejected by the court.

In any case, like Merino's earlier work, Punching Franco makes no reference to the foundation and cannot therefore injure its reputation, they say.