Cattelan, Maurizio

▪ 2007
 With Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan serving as one of its curators, the fourth Berlin biennial, “Of Mice and Men,” which opened in March 2006, aroused much curiosity. Cattelan was, after all, known for subversive, prankish displays, including a locked gallery with a “back soon” note posted on the door, an “invisible” piece of art consisting of a police report describing a work that had been stolen from his car the night before, and a real, live art dealer duct taped to a gallery wall.

      Cattelan was born on Jan. 6, 1960, in Padua, Italy. A self-taught artist, he began his career designing furniture but turned to sculpture and conceptual art in the early 1990s and quickly garnered a reputation for a sense of humour and a penchant for blurring the distinction between art and reality. He described himself as a “lazy” artist. “It only takes a minute to have the idea,” he told The Guardian newspaper. “I don't do anything.” Some of his actions backed up that claim. In 1992, for example, he assembled a group of donors to award him a $10,000 grant that stipulated that he not exhibit any artwork for one year. At the 1993 Venice Biennale, he made a statement (and a profit) by subletting his exhibit space to a perfume company. At an exhibition in Turin, Italy, he knotted bedsheets together and hung them out a window, giving the impression that he had left the building.

      In truth, however, Cattelan did “do” plenty of creating. In 1999 he exhibited La nona ora, which depicted Pope John Paul II having just been struck by a meteorite. That same year at a London gallery, he displayed a miniature replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located in Washington, D.C., that had engraved on it the score of every soccer match lost by the English national team. His commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, Frankie and Jamie (2002), showed two wax-figure New York police officers standing upside down. Despite so much satiric critique of the art world and society in general, Cattelan deftly managed—for the most part—to enthrall rather than enrage his audience and his peers.

      In the end, the fourth Berlin biennial turned out not to represent the kind of quirkiness that people expected from Cattelan. He admitted that he and his cocurators, Ali Subotnick and Massimiliano Gioni, had discussed some unusual ideas—“a biennial without art, a biennial without objects, a biennial with only objects that were not art, and so on,” Cattelan said. They decided against any of those ideas, however. “Let's do a show without tricks,” he said, “just an exhibition that we would like to see.” Was he being coy or just lazy? Much of Cattelan's work raised similar questions.

Anthony G. Craine

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▪ Italian artist
born Jan. 6, 1960, Padua, Italy
 
 Italian conceptual artist known for his subversive, prankish displays.

      A self-taught artist, Cattelan began his career designing furniture but turned to sculpture and conceptual art in the early 1990s and quickly garnered a reputation for a sense of humour and a penchant for blurring the distinction between art and reality. He described himself as a “lazy” artist and told The Guardian newspaper that “I don't do anything.” Some of his actions backed up the latter claim. In 1992, for example, he assembled a group of donors to award him a $10,000 grant that stipulated that he not exhibit any artwork for one year. At the 1993 Venice Biennale, he made a statement (and a profit) by subletting his exhibit space to a perfume company. At an exhibition in Turin, Italy, he knotted bedsheets together and hung them out a window, giving the impression that he had left the building.

      In truth, however, Cattelan did plenty of creating. In 1999 he exhibited La nona ora, which depicted Pope John Paul II having just been struck by a meteorite. That same year at a London gallery, he displayed a miniature replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, located in Washington, D.C., that had engraved on it the score of every football (soccer) match lost by the English national team. His commemoration of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Frankie and Jamie (2002), showed two wax figures of New York police officers standing upside down. Despite so much satiric critique of the art world and society in general, Cattelan deftly managed—for the most part—to enthrall rather than enrage his audience and his peers.

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Universalium. 2010.

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