Maurizio Cattelan – The Anti-Artist
Storyteller, Provocateur and Prankster
Also, Curator, Editor and Publisher
Renowned and controversial artist, Maurizio Cattelan, was born in Padua, Italy, and currently lives between New York and Milan. His work bluntly criticizes society and constantly mocks the art world. Cattelan has been endlessly compared with Marcel Duchamp, the most influential artist of the twentieth century. Similarly, to Duchamp, Cattelan is against the institution, worships the absurd and exalts irony.
As a conceptual artist, Cattelan stages scenes of ambiguous meanings, making the spectator a protagonist whether one might feel offended, repulsed or even disgusted by his works. He focuses on the idea and worries about the final impact. At the same time, Cattelan doesn’t own a studio, nor does he make any of his pieces himself. He has been working with the finest artist-craftsmen over the years to fabricate his sculptures and teams up with museum’s professionals to reproduce his most challenging ideas. Cattelan’s way of working creates a direct connection with Duchamp.
Taking Duchampian principles to an extreme, perhaps, Cattelan has created a body of work, over two decades that depicts the struggle of contemporary society.
Like a storyteller, Cattelan stresses themes that poke deeply into the open wounds of our recent history. For instance, La Nona Ora, (the Ninth Hour) is a life-sized identical wax portrait of Pope John Paul II, dressed in papal regalia, clutching the Papal Cross and lying on a deep-red carpet after being struck by a meteorite. Like many Italians of his generation, Cattelan has a special relationship with the Catholic Church. In a very subversive and humorous way, the scene suggests a divine punishment, reflecting on a meteorite that comes directly from the sky or perhaps simply implies the mortality of the world’s most venerated man. The piece has endless layers of interpretation but it is also timeless as is the majority of Cattelan‘s works. Even though La Nona Ora was created in 1999, it could easily be connected with the sexual abuse scandal of the Catholic Church today. Also, it is essential to mention the meaning of the title. In Catholic liturgy, The Ninth Hour is the time of prayer that marks the time when Jesus died onthe Cross. Similar to Duchamp’s elaborated titles, Cattelan’s titles underline the concepts and ideas behind his works.
In 2010, Cattelan co-founded Toilet Paper Magazine in collaboration with fashion photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari. In this project, Cattelan uses popular culture and the language of advertising to challenge how art is perceived. Their photographic compositions are brightly colored and highly provocative. In 2014 New York Magazine published its annual Spring fashion issue, which features a striking 24-page portfolio commission by a Cattelan and Ferrari collaboration. This year, they created an Opera “music video” that comes across as an ode to the absurd; charged with eroticism, irony, and despair. The opera was created to be part of a larger project with renowned countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. Another similarity that Cattelan and Duchamp share is the number of collaborations with other artists throughout their careers as well as wearing different hats as curators, editors and publishers.
In 2011, Cattelan had a major retrospective of his work at the New York Solomon Guggenheim Museum, curated by Nancy Spector Chief Curator and Katherine Brinson Associate Curator. The exhibition was titled “Maurizio Cattelan: All,” and literally presented all 128 of Cattelan’s works. He decided to suspend all these pieces from the museum’s Oculus making a new challenge for the iconic rotunda as did the colossal installations of Claes Oldenburg, Matthew Barney and Cai Guo-Quiang. It took six months for the museum’s team of art handlers to prepare the exhibition at an external location and three weeks to install in situ. Cattelan’s optimum fantasy was the museum’s oculus falling down and with it, the destruction of all his works.
Five years later, after Cattelan announced his retirement from art making, America, 2016 came to be installed at one of the Guggenheim Museum’s bathrooms. A fully functional 18-karat gold toilet was put to the use for the museum’s visitors. As a sculptural performance of interactive art, America, a luxury object designed for the 1 percent offered a unique opportunity to interact intimately with an artwork. Simultaneously, “as an art historical gesture, America references Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917, a urinal presented as sculptural readymade.” As important for groundbreaking innovation on the concept of art making as Duchamp, Cattelan’s piece is a strong critic of our current realities.
“Cattelan’s work belongs to the tradition of anti-aestheticism that can be traced back to Duchamp and became trendy with conceptual art.” Indeed, there are too many Duchampian influences in Cattelan’s work such as fabrication, collaboration, the use of untraditional materials and a humorous and ironic rebellion. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of uniqueness
to Cattelan, which is his bold, irreverent and subversive vision. For many Cattelan is perhaps the worst artist of our times, for others the best. Ultimately, what he tries to say in his works is entirely up to us.
1- Riemschneider, Burkhard and Grosenick, Uta, Art at The Turn of The Millennium. First edition, Italy: Tashen, 1999
2- Tomkins, Calvin, Lives of The Artists, First edition. USA: Henry Holt and Company, 2009
3- Kuspit, Donald, Maurizio Cattelan, La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour), The Art Economist, 2011.
4- Deitch, Jeffrey, The Art Impresario, Another Magazine No 10, 2006
5- Ledrum, Alexander, Maurizio Cattelan, Hypebeast, 2012
6- Schjeldahl, Peter, The Critics, The Art World, Up in The Air, A Maurizio Cattelan Retrospective, The New Yorker, 2011
7- Spector, Nancy, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation Blog. 2017. “Maurizio Cattelan’s Golden Toilet in the Time of Trump”
8- Press release. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation. 2016. “Maurizio Cattelan Emerges from Self-Imposed Retirement with New Work to Be Installed in the Guggenheim”
 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation. 2016. “Maurizio Cattelan Emerges from Self-Imposed Retirement with New Work to Be Installed in the Guggenheim”
 Kuspit, Donald, Maurizio Cattelan, La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour), The Art Economist, 2011.