New York’s Guggenheim Museum is presenting a retrospective of the irreverent and humorous work of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan (on view through January 22). Instead of the conventional, chronological look back, Cattelan has created one giant, rebellious installation in the rotunda of the museum by hanging “all” of the objects that he has created since 1989. A site-specific installation if ever there was one, it’s an artistic statement in its own right about the problematic nature of trying to present a life-long body of work in the form of a retrospective, as well as a meditation on what it means to be old enough to have a retrospective. In exhibiting his work in this gallows-like manner—literally executing his own work—Cattelan provocatively leaves the walls of the circular ramp bare. He also drops the ubiquitous and ever-popular museum signage.

The retrospective is ironically called Maurizio Cattelan: All, referring to the fact that Cattelan’s career is very hard to document in a traditional retrospective because of the nature of his work. His iconic objects—for example a lifelike wax sculpture of Pope John Paul II struck down by a meteorite (La Nona Ora, 1999)…  … and a boy-sized sculpture of Adolf Hitler kneeling in supplication (Him, 2001).

Each is best seen dramatically installed alone in its own space. In addition, many of Cattelan’s early performances and artistic stunts have become art-history legends and are impossible to re-create. For example, Cattelan was so disappointed by the artwork that he had made for for his first solo show in 1989 that he left the gallery empty, locked it, and put up a sign reading Torno subito, “Be back soon.”  Torno subito is hanging in the rotunda of the Guggenheim as part of the installation, but like many of the other objects taken out of their original context, the sign is an indecipherable artifact to many visitors. For those not familiar with Cattelan’s work, the installation as a whole may be mildly amusing, but all of the wonderful ideas and stories surrounding the individual artworks are inaccessible without some extra effort.

 

But visitors who don’t give up will be rewarded. I visited the show with my 19-year old daughter, Isabel, who quickly got a hold of a map-like drawing of the installation. We started at the bottom and slowly made our way up the ramp, identifying each work and noticing how our perspectives on the work changed as we circled around it. Isabel took a lot of photos from various angles, appreciating the layers of objects and their placement in relationship to each other. The installation looks haphazard, but it was carefully designed using manquettes of the works hung in a miniature model, and it is very photogenic.  

La Rivoluzione siamo noi.

We looked and chatted, and Isabel was able to make some good observations and formulate many insightful questions. It was interesting to discover through my daughter’s experience that Cattelan’s most important themes, such as his disdain of authority, his fear of failure, his use of images of himself as an anti-hero, and his obsession with his own mortality, are more apparent in his work than I initially thought.   Being a Cattelan fan, I was able to answer some of Isabel’s questions and retell some of the stories about the artist’s unorthodox artistic practices, but there were also several works that stumped me.     The map is a good way to focus on individual works, but it provides only limited information, such as the title of the work, the year it was made, and the materials it was made from.  

Maurizio Cattelan. (Photo: Pierpaolo Ferrari).

On the way out of the museum, I bought the show’s bible-like catalog. Isabel and I sat across the street on a bench in the Central Park sunshine and took turns reading aloud about some of the works that had intrigued us. It was kind of like playing that memory game where you try to remember a bunch of objects on a tray after studying them for a given amount of time—but much more fun. The more we read, the more we realized how much we had missed. We considered going back into the museum for a second look but decided to go eat lunch instead.

 

 

After I got home and was looking at the Guggenheim’s website, I discovered a wonderful app, available for iPhone, iPad and Android, about Cattelan and the Guggenheim retrospective. Cult filmmaker John Waters acts as host, and there are hours of entertaining information. There are videos of chief curator Nancy Spector and Cattelan’s friends, including the artist Carsten Höller, discussing Cattelan and his work. But the best feature on the app is a section called “Works on View.” It is a three-dimensional image of the installation in which you can enlarge each of the works, read a detailed description of it, and learn about its original context. By contrast, the Guggenheim’s audio guide includes only one “stop” about Maurizio Cattelan: All, so it is not very useful for this show.

I would definitely recommend buying the digital app, or the catalog, and heading out to see Maurizio Cattelan: All.

LOGISTICS

 

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Avenue (at 89th Street)

Maurizio Cattelan: All has extended hours in December and January. (Closed Thursday)

December 2011, 10 am–7:45 pm

  • Tuesday, December 20
  • Monday, December 26
  • Tuesday, December 27

January 2012, 10 am–7:45 pm

  • Monday, January 2
  • Tuesday, January 3
  • Monday, January 9
  • Tuesday, January 10
  • Monday, January 16
  • Tuesday, January 17

(The last ticket is issued at 7:15 pm during extended hours.)

All photographs courtesy the Guggenheim Museum, unless otherwise noted.

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  • RozWarren December 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Suzanne: your writing about art is just wonderful. Engaging and informative and fun to read. I look forward to reading more of it.

    Reply
  • alice ray cathrall December 22, 2011 at 11:35 am

    A beautiful commentary on Cattelan,thank you.
    Hey,I have an idea
    Why not fill the public spiral space with a sculpture of a massive popcorn!

    Reply
  • Millicent December 22, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I love the notion of a hanging “yard sale” I wish I were in NY to see the show!

    Reply