Maurizio Cattelan: All
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
until January 22nd, 2012
Retrospective -noun- An art exhibit showing an entire phase or representative examples of an artist's lifework. (From Dictionary.com)
In the tradition of a true artist retrospective, Maurizio Cattelan along with Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Guggenheim Museum Nancy Spector present Maurizio Cattelan: All. Katherine Brinson, Associate Curator also played an important role in the organization of the exhibition which promises to be the artists last. When it comes to artistic integrity, Maurizio Cattelan has never been one to bend or compromise his original intention and the exhibition is quite fitting in the representation of what has been many years of artistic practice leading to an impressive career and body of work. The exhibit, like his artwork, is chaotic, controversial, memorable and darkly comedic. While the rotunda of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright building has been used before in previous exhibitions, this is the first time an artist has chosen to display an entire body of work in this central location leaving the rest of the museum (minus the separate gallery wings on the second and third floors) empty. This may leave some visitors feeling left out in the cold, but the Guggenheim is known for letting artists take chances. A similar yet different example was The Cremaster Cycle in 2002 by Matthew Barney who was then the youngest artist to ever have a solo exhibition at the museum. Instead of focusing on the cinematic works from The Cremaster Cycle, Barney chose instead to bring audience attention to large sculptures, most which were made from Vaseline. As examples of large museum exhibitions, The Cremaster Cycle and Maurizio Cattelan: All, reveal the Guggenheim’s intention of putting art in the forefront and not let anything else stand in its way.
Maurizio Cattelan has been making sculptures and installations for the last twenty years. In the early days of his career, he never considered himself a true artist, but rather took chances to make work that was quite simple in its execution but strong in the message it communicated. Inside the volume filled space of the Guggenheim rotunda, one of the artists earliest works, Lessico Familiare (Language of the Family), 1989, a nude self-portrait photograph placed in a small, banal frame, hangs alongside much larger physically ambitious works such as Untitled, 1996, a life-size taxidermy horse drooping in posture, representing a disparate sense of hopelessness. Much of Maurizio’s work comments on socio-political situations as well as the concept of the individual, less as part of a community but rather individual as anti-establishment and lone figure. The portraits that his work portrays range from anonymous children to a smaller than life-size Adolf Hitler, Him, 2001 who kneels in a position of prayer, frozen in sculpted material. What much of his work does is force the viewer to recognize a familiar element of sorts, to then be thrown off his or her equilibrium by the context in which the object or figure is in. In another early work an engraved Plexiglas sign with the words Torno subito, 1989 (Be back soon) was originally installed on the door of a gallery. The piece was without explanation and the gallery never opened however even in the most subtle ways, Maurizio Cattelan was addressing the boundaries of art and the various levels of discomfort he could arouse in the viewer.
Previous to the installation of Maurizio Cattelan: All, the entire survey of work, mostly from private collections, was shipped to a large warehouse in Brooklyn where engineers worked for many months testing weight and size proportion of individual pieces in order to ensure safety once everything dangled from the central dome. It has been said that upon first visit to the warehouse collector Dakis Jouannou, who owns much of Cattelan’s art, dropped to his knees with delight at the realization that much of the work could be accidentally destroyed. It is a myth within itself. In 2011, where much regarding art and exhibitions has already “been done” or thought of before, it is the artists responsibility to reinvent himself not only in a visual way but in a theoretical approach that is both reactionary and conceptually driven and Cattelan has done both. His work has not always been the most popular even though it now commands millions of dollars at auction. Many in and outside of the art world have a love/hate relationship with the artist and his work. In the 2003 Biennale di Venezia he exhibited La Nona Ora, 1999 a life-size sculpture of then Pope John Paul II felled by an ill-fated meteorite. Originally exhibited in a small museum in Basel, Switzerland, the work is obviously not a favorite of the Catholic Church. One year after September 11th, 2001 he showed Frank and Jamie, 2002 two life-size NYPD officers, side by side and completely flipped standing on their heads at Marian Goodman Gallery, NY. The piece is said to be a meditation on the twin towers and the officers who responded to call of duty that day, but of course upon first glance this may not be the reaction one may arrive at.
In a frozen tornado of sorts, the art is suspended in a locked sequence of time. It is within this juncture and conundrum of realization when the exhibit starts to glow from the inside out. Within the cacophony of objects is a delightful organization of artwork that is relevant to particular moments of time. Even if we do not always look our best, Maurizio Cattelan holds up a mirror to global society. Sometimes cracked, sometimes warped as if from the walls of a funhouse and other times clear as day, it’s not always easy to look into the surface, but imperfections will never be corrected if one is afraid to examine him/herself.
Walking up the subtle incline of the ramp various works come in and out of view. Cattelan comments on cultural, political, social and popular culture and it’s ALL here juxtaposing satire and honesty, representing a moment of our recent past. Throughout the duration of the exhibition Untitled, 2003 an animatronic drummer boy originally installed at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, tinkers and taps the surface of his drum. Beyond the soft footsteps and murmur of the audience, it is the only audible sound to emerge from the installation. It is soulful and sad, a solo of a child who never existed amongst work that reflects both the truth and fallacy of imagination.
Maurizio Cattelan: All will be on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York until January 22nd, 2012. Download the Maurizio Cattelan: All app at guggenheim.org/cattelan-app
Katy Diamond Hamer is an art writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently contributing to Flash Art International, Sleek, NY Magazine, Whitehot Magazine and others. For more of her writing visit: http://www.eyes-towards-the-dove.com
Photograph by Takis Spyropoulos, 2012
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