This week’s New Yorker has a Talk of the Town piece by Emma Allen about moving a block of concrete from the Whitney’s former Upper East Side location to its brand-new Renzo Piano–designed building in Chelsea. Naturally that block of concrete is a work of art. Encased inside it is a steamrolled Maurizio Cattelan sculpture from 2000.
Cattelan destroyed the work—which used to be a sculpture of the artist seated at a table, with his head in a plate of spaghetti—for the 2004 Whitney Biennial. The remains of the sculpture were placed inside a concrete block.
Here’s Cattelan and curator Chrissie Iles on destroying the work:
“It makes me willing to do more mistakes!” Cattelan said, clapping his hands. “Next time, to kill a piece by different means. Instead of steamrolling, to throw it from an airplane. Or sink it. Or laser!”
Iles began to talk about the significance of having an art work pulverized by an institution.
Cattelan interrupted, “From my point of view, it’s more an image, like one of these cartoons where you have the coyote run over, and then he comes out completely flat.”
“No, but it’s very dramatic!” Iles insisted. “At the height of that market moment—”
“Gallerists were calling, crying, saying, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Cattelan recalled. Another of his self-portrait sculptures sold at Sotheby’s for nearly eight million dollars, in 2010.
And here’s how you can find the work in the new Whitney:
Back on eight, Margo Delidow, a conservator, beckoned to Cattelan with a hammer. Before the block was enclosed behind the wall, she’d be chipping off a piece to place beneath a flagstone that would be installed in the floor of the lobby. A Nelson Mandela quote would appear on it: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
“It’s nice that people can walk on it,” Cattelan said. “We are walking on our dead constantly.”
Of course, as with any Cattelan work, you wonder whether he’s playing a prank. Is there even a sculpture in there? Did he really steamroll it? The full piece is here.