Maurizio Cattelan All – A Weighty Exhibit
Maurizio Cattelan’s first retrospective exhibit, “All,” is on view at the Guggenheim until January 22, 2012. In it all of the works that Cattelan created — that’s 130 in total — from 1989 till present, are suspended from the ceiling in the museum’s rotunda, turning Cattelan’s oeuvre into an unusual mobile, but one that would probably make Alexander Calder wince.
Maurizio Cattelan’s “All” has been organized by Nancy Spector, Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. She writes, “Cattelan’s career resists summation by any traditional exhibition format. Many of his early, action-based meditations are impossible to reconstruct, and his singular, iconic objects function best in isolation…‘All’ is thus a full-scale admission of the inadvisability of viewing his work within the context of a conventional chronological retrospective.”
Cattelan is a controversial artist who has used his art making as socio-political commentary. Like many contemporary artists he both mocks — and derives a huge income from — the art market. A good example of his wry humor is “Stephanie,” a work commissioned in 2003 by mega-collector and art patron Peter Brant, who is the publisher of Interview magazine. The sculpture is of Brant’s wife, model Stephanie Seymour. In it she’s depicted like an animal bust mounted over a hunter’s fireplace. Many refer to it as “Trophy Wife.”
Thus, Cattelan openly pokes fun at the art world and — like teenagers wanting to be part of the popular clique — they hero worship him in return, something he seemingly finds amusing. There were actually three casts made of “Stephanie” and one came up for auction at Phillips de Pury & Company in November, 2010. In the catalog, Massimiliano Gioni suggests “Cattelan’s last nip at the hand that feeds him, the editioning of ‘Stephanie’ served as a gentle reminder that though Brant had bagged his trophy wife,” he was “obliged to share her” with “the public at large” and “other collectors.” (You can visit “Stephanie” at Maurizio Cattelan’s “All.”)
In another work — perhaps his most controversial — Cattelan pokes fun at the Pope, but many people, especially in Italy, didn’t find this work funny. Its called “The Ninth Hour (La Nona Ora)” and shows Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite down on the floor surrounded by shattered glass.
A more recent work, displayed last year in front of the Milan Stock, well before Italy’s recent debt crisis — but now more relevant because of it — is “L.O.V.E.” The work was part of a Cattelan exhibit, “Against Ideologies,” held at the Milan Royal Palace. What’s remarkable about the work is that its, essentially, the middle finger gesture associated with the vaffanculo remark. So, one wonders if Cattelan is directing this work at the financiers at the exchange because it did occur after the global financial crisis.
“Novocento,” another of Cattelan’s controversial works, was on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2008 for 16th Biennale of Sydney. The work depicts a dead horse hanging from a harness and the title is the same as a 1976 film made by Bernardo Bertolucci that features Robert de Niro and Gerard Depardieu and deals with the issues of fascism and communism in post-war Italy. Again, one wonders who and what the artist is attacking. Is he comparing Italy to a dead horse?
Maurizio Cattelan, was born in Padua and he maintains homes in Italy, including one in Filicudi, an Italian island north-east of Sicily. He’s only 51, yet announced at the time of the opening of “All” that he is retiring from art making. He’s an elusive man known to avoid interview requests. Once he sent a “stand in” to speak to an art documentary film maker. He’s said that he plans to now focus his time and energy on the art publication he’s created with photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari, called Toilet Paper.
The reviews of Maurizio Cattelan’s “All” have varied from displeasure to elation. Many focus on the installation itself and what it signifies, or its effectiveness. Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World, wrote in The Economist, “The Guggenheim Museum…is notoriously inhospitable to art, particularly because its central atrium offers a more engaging spectacle than the official exhibition spaces that are aligned along the winding ramp. But Mr Cattelan effectively upstages the building by placing all his work in the light-filled centre.”
Art critic Roberta Smith was not overly impressed by either the installation or exhibit. In her review in The New York Times, she remarked, “Whatever their strengths, the individual works are radically decontextualized and diminished in this arrangement.”
On the other hand, her husband, Jerry Saltz, senior art critic for New York, loved the show and is a Cattelan fan. He wrote, “It’s true that his work can be wildly uneven, but I’ve had faith in him ever since I saw it for the first time, in 1994: The installation was a live donkey in a Greene Street gallery. (The neighbors howled, and the show lasted one day.) Since then, Cattelan has, often enough, done what an artist ought to: open the floor beneath my feet, and take me places I didn’t know were there.”
There’s an image circulating of Saltz lying on the floor of the Guggenheim below Cattelan’s installation, peering up at, and contemplating, the massive work. The image seems daunting, even ominous, if one stops momentarily to consider the sheer weight of what hangs above him. Even Thornton noted of viewers of “All” that, “When regarded from below, they imagine being crushed.” Was the Guggenheim’s atrium designed to withstand an installation of this size and weight hanging from it?
So, it appears, exhibit viewers are completely safe. However, the targets of Cattelan’s artistic observations are, decidedly, not safe from the weight of his shrewd commentary.