Often described as a provocateur, prankster and tragic poet of our times, Maurizio Cattelan has created some of the most unforgettable works in recent contemporary art. Drawing from popular culture, history, organized religion or a meditation on the self, his at once humorous and profound sculptures reveal many contradictions at the core of today’s society. However, Cattelan considers himself an "art worker" rather than an "artist", which speaks about his propensity for challenging socially ingrained norms and hierarchies. Often uniting humor and the macabre in his practice, he profoundly interrogates subjects historically only available to the court fool.
Cattelan's two pieces have particularly caught the attention of the public - America from 2017 and Comedian from 2019. The 18-karat solid gold toilet that acts as a witty comment on the social, political and economic disparities in the United States, America was first installed in a restroom at The Guggenheim, stirring many controversies. The piece was recently on view in Cattelan's solo show at The Blenheim Palace, only to get stolen in an amazing turn of events. This December, the contemporary Italian artist presented his latest work Comedian at Art Basel in Miami, a duct-taped banana that was priced at $120,000. While two editions of the work were sold, the third one was eaten by the performance artist David Datuna as part of his performance Hungry Artist.
Featured image: Maurizio Cattelan in front of his L.O.V.E sculpture in Milan. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Created in 1999, La Nona Hora (The Ninth Hour) depicts Pope John II lying on the ground after being struck by a meteorite. Further highlighted by the Pope's expression of suffering, the scene is quite sensational and results in a range of narrative interpretations. The title of the work alludes to the moment when Christ cries out: "Why have you forsaken me?" and dies on the cross. The piece seems to suggest that even the holiest man in the Roman Catholic tradition may not be safe from misfortune.
The work had various readings - some think it suggests the calamitous degradation of the Church as a result of scandals and quickly changing social values or perhaps it celebrates it with this extraterrestrial injury to the Pope. Others have seen it as suggesting that even the most established seats of power can become vulnerable.
Featured image: Maurizio Cattelan - La Nona Hora, 1999. Image by Fred Romero via flickr.
The Maurizio Cattelan art piece from 2001, We Are the Revolution shows a miniature effigy of the artist hanging from a Marcel Breuer–designed clothing rack, dressed in Joseph Beuys’s canonical felt suit, which the late German artist had worn during his action Isolation Unit (1971). In this depiction, Cattelan contrasts Beuys's statement, "every man is an artist", with his own, "I am not an artist".
While Beuys presented himself as a shaman, a figure capable of healing the ills of the world through ritual and incantation, Cattelan presents himself as a trickster who stirs up trouble in an all-too-complacent world. Yet it seems that the trickster character is both a shaman and a prankster who can transform himself at will in order to work his magic.
Featured image: Maurizio Cattelan - We Are the Revolution, 2001. Image via Galerie Perrotin.
The work Untitled from 2007 shows five taxidermized horses that jumped and whose head disappeared into the wall. The animals seem immortalized in this absurd jump, reversing the convention of the animal's head as a hunting trophy. Cattelan has used taxidermy to freeze the horses in space and time; thus, they are neither truly dead nor alive.
When one observes the horse keenly, they can conclude that the herd jumped willingly into the wall. Perhaps this was an attempt to escape some form of danger, or with a desire to take their own lives. This work was first installed in the Kaputt exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland. In previous works, the artist rendered horses as lonely figures, something that is opposite in the herd. Art critic Francesco Bonami wrote: "The jump [of the single ‘untitled’ horse] is delusional and yet heroic. The five horses transform delusion into panic and individual effort into a crowd."
Featured image: Maurizio Cattelan - Untitled, 2007. Image via Fondation Beyeler.
Installed at Milan’s Piazza degli Affari, L.O.V.E is a 4 to 5 meters high marble sculpture of a veiny hand giving its beholders the middle finger. Placed right in front of the fascist-styled Palazzo Mezzanotte, the Italian stock exchange building, to many people it seems to flip it off. However, a closer look shows that all the other fingers have been chopped off, after which the initial Nazi salute is reduced to an obscene offensive gesture, as an attack on fascism. The title of the piece is officially an acronym standing for liberta, odio, vendetta, and eternita, translated to "freedom, hate, revenge, and eternity."
The artist himself explained:
Officially its name is L.O.V.E. – so it stands for love – but everyone can read between the lines and take away the message they see for themselves.
Featured image: Maurizio Cattelan - L.O.V.E., 2010. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Provocative and controversial, the work Him from 2011 is a portrait of Adolf Hitler in a kneeling position, in an unexpected if not inconceivable pose of repentance. When approaching the figure from behind, it appears to be a small boy kneeling in silent prayer. As the figure is gradually drawn into focus, his eerie schoolboy attire, freshly shorn raven hair, and slightly scuffed boots cast the boy out of the present day and into an era circa 1935. While standing directly above the figure and Hitler's face becomes recognizable, the viewer looms above one of the most shocking and disquieting works of art to emerge in the postwar era.
The artist himself explained he wanted to destroy the sculpture himself and changed his mind a thousand times, every day.
Hitler is pure fear; it’s an image of terrible pain. It even hurts to pronounce his name. And yet that name has conquered my memory, it lives in my head, even if it remains taboo. Hitler is everywhere, haunting the specter of history; and yet he is unmentionable, irreproducible, wrapped in a blanket of silence.
Featured image: Maurizio Cattelan - Him, 2011. Image by Fred Romero via flickr. All images used for illustrative purposes only.