Where Hitler Meets JFK

Maurizio Cattelan at the Guggenheim

Maurizio Cattelan, All, 2011–12, installation view.
David Heald ©Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Those who are impressed by spectacle and/or taxidermy will be thoroughly satisfied with All, the superficial yet mind-boggling retrospective of Italian provocateur Maurizio Cattelan. Over 20 years worth of the artist’s work—128 sculptures, photographs, neon signs, billboards, and paintings—dangle from a steel frame at the top of the museum’s rotunda, filling the void at the center of the building and leaving the walls entirely blank. This hanging most resembles a public execution, made all the more poignant (for those who care) by Cattelan’s announcement that the show will be his final work of art, even though he’s only 51 years of age.

Defying a chronological or even thoughtful thematic arrangement, the installation launches the works on a collision course in space. Some meanings can be discerned, but then, it’s almost by accident. Frank and Jamie (2002), two policemen hanging upside down, can be viewed behind Him (2000), a child-size rendition of Adolf Hitler, as if the cops were incapable of arresting the villain who, in turn, prays for forgiveness. Frau C. (2007), a lifelike woman in the posture of a crucifix, presides over Charlie Don’t Surf (1997), a young boy with hands impaled on a school desk by yellow pencils. The sense of death is palpable, even beyond such pieces as JFK in his coffin, in Now (2004), or the pope felled by a meteor, in La Nona Ora (1999), probably Cattelan’s most famous work.

With the further inclusion of four horses, five donkeys, numerous dogs, one ostrich, an elephant, and a full-scale dinosaur skeleton, one wonders what keeps everything from crashing to the ground. The political content of Cattelan’s work appears to have been drained, especially with L.O.V.E. (2010), a model of a hand featuring an erect middle finger with no indication that the original sculpture is installed outside the Milan Stock Exchange. Missing also are the artist’s pranks, such as curating the “Wrong Gallery,” a miniature exhibition space first installed in a window in a Chelsea doorway. For visitors eager to learn more about the artist, the museum directs them not to wall labels, but to an iPad app, which provides everything but the price tags.

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  • I’ve always had a hard time appreciating Cattelan’s work. perhaps it is simply that I cannot help but wonder that we’ve already have enough dark humor and irony in art and perhaps it’s time again for some real thought instead of sight-gags, e.g. the pope felled by meteors, and narcissitistic self absorption, the artist himself emerging from hole in floor. Like his Brit counterpart, Hirst, Cattelan engages in adolescent thumbing of the nose at the institutions of art and gee wiz play with stuffed animals. At least early Hirst works, i.e. vitrines, could be seem as being imbued with some existential angst. But those salad days are long gone, both for Cattelan and Hirst.

    In the end, Cattelan , like Hirst, comes off as a sniggering boy, laughing at his own inside jokes and satire. Cute at first, but hardly the stuff of a major show or retrospective. It’s like revisiting adolescent school daze (my word) over and over again. The trouble is, many of truly are glad to be through with adolsecence, while some, like Cattelan appear to be lost in it.

    Enough already. Time for Peter Pan to grow up, decide what he wants to do when he grows up and get down to some real work.

  • Serge

    Trivial, ridiculous work. Don’t support “artists” who treat themselves and their presumed audience with so little respect.

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