Franz Barwig the elder was already a well-regarded Austrian sculptor by the 1920s, when his former countryman, Austrian-American architect Joseph Urban, hired him and his son Walter to travel to Palm Beach, Florida to sculpt whimsical, tropical decorations for Marjorie Merriweather Post’s new home. You might know the Barwigs’ work, even if you don’t know the Barwigs, because of this 1996 Brian Smith photo of a father, a daughter, and a sculpture of what are often alleged to be two parrots fucking:
Or maybe you know it from this other photo, which recently surfaced in Mark Bowden’s account of his 1996 trip to Mar-a-Lago to interview Trump. It’s clearly from the same photo shoot, but this time Ivanka is gone and Trump is resting his hand on one of the winged wantons with a sort of proprietary air. “Have at it, you scoundrels,” he seems to be saying, “but don’t forget who this house, including all the statues of sex-maddened parrots, belongs to.” But does Mar-a-Lago, designed to entertain the height of Jazz age high society, really include a statue of parrots in flagrante delicto? Does that sound like something the heiress to the Post Cereal fortune would commission?
Stipulate that Palm Beach, Florida in the 1920s was a mecca for upper-class depravity of all sorts. When The Breakers burned down in the spring of 1925, guests threw jewels and fur coats from their windows—furs, in Palm Beach, in March—and $300,000 in jewelry was found in the hotel’s safe when it was finally cool enough to open. But was the town “design a pool around hardcore bird-on-bird action” depraved? Absolutely. But not this pool, and not these parrots. Let’s look at the evidence systematically.
Whenever the eternal quest for knowledge decrees that one must determine whether or not a statue depicts parrots having sex, the wisest approach is the scientific one. And the most scientifically rigorous way to prove that Donald Trump’s fountain of fine feathered fuck-fiends is fraudulent is by embedding a YouTube video of two blue macaws positively going to town on each other on the illustrious pages of Slate. It’s science! Have a look (and a listen):
True love. The first and most obvious observation is that nobody wants to listen to parrots having sex. The second is that if Barwig was trying to sculpt parrot pornography, he should have spent a little more time surreptitiously watching parrots make the beast with four wings. Just look at the positions: One bird is upside down, the other is biting the perch to brace for some serious cloacal kissing. Real parrots having real sex looks nothing like the idealized parrot sculptures at Mar-a-Lago, which are probably giving young parrots impossible expectations about parrot sex as we speak.
But this still leaves two possibilities: Barwig either didn’t intend his parrot sculpture to represent parrots boning, or he just wasn’t very scientifically accurate when it came to chiseling parrots in the throes of passion out of imported Mediterranean stone. To find out more, we needed to look at the parrot sculpture from every conceivable angle, constructing a sort of mental parrot-porking panopticon. Data point one: this 2011 blog post about lunch at Mar-a-Lago from journalist Joan Gage includes a photo of the fountain from a different angle which shows three parrots, not two. But these parrots all have enough breathing room between them for a middle school dance, and they’re facing the wrong way. Where’s the birdie bacchanal President Trump was sitting on?
The answer was found even deeper into the past, in a blog post from 2009 containing a photo from the 1980s of the entire parrot fountain from the courtyard below. Although the fountain is in disrepair in the photo, it shows six parrots facing each other across the water. From that angle, a few things become clear:
- None of the parrots are meant to be fucking each other.
- Unless you count eye-fucking the parrots on the other side of the fountain, which, why would you count that? You don’t know what those parrot statues are thinking.
- There are not many angles from which that sculpture looks like it depicts parrots participating in any kind of parrot sexual activity at all.
- But Donald Trump found one.
In other words, the whole thing is perfectly harmless. We just happen to have a president who likes to be photographed from an angle that makes his innocent parrot sculpture look like it depicts an all-out, no-holds barred avian fuckfest. And there’s nothing creepy about that!
Here is the complete Slate verdict on whether or not the parrot sculptures at Mar-a-Lago are getting it on, rendered in the style of John Cleese in Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch:
These parrots are not boning for the fiords. Their lusts are no more. Their libidos have ceased to be. Their cloacal kiss has expired and gone to meet its maker. These are chaste parrots. There’s no stiff! Bereft of sex, they rest in peace! If you hadn’t nailed them to a fountain they’d be watching Netflix in sweatpants! Their reproductive processes are of interest only to historians! They’ve kicked the fuck-it, shuffled off immoral oils, toned down the spurtin’, enjoined from breeding, spire invisible! These are not sex parrots!