Finish Fetish

Left: The crowd at The Last Word in the Guggenheim's Peter B. Lewis theater. Right: A video of Tracey Emin. (All photos: Andy Guzzonatto)

WHO DOESN’T SHOW UP to their own funeral? And who, in god’s name, sends friends and strangers as surrogates? Maurizio Cattelan, that’s who. The ostensible occasion for The Last Word, Saturday’s seven-hour-long endurance “symposium”/roast at the Guggenheim, was the end to Cattelan’s much-ballyhooed retrospective and the beginning of his early retirement from artmaking. Too bad the artist wasn’t present. (He and many of the advertised speakers were probably at a better party).

You want to die. Me too. Especially when the incentive of the main event is a cash bar, and I’m on antibiotics. By the way, this is being live-streamed, so please powder your nose in advance, and if you’ve got to go to the loo, bring your iPad with you. The Wi-Fi password is cattelan. (True.)

I kept asking myself: Is this tragedy or comedy? The Last Word was made for you to crave its ending, and for some, I suppose, to mourn, process, and frame. If only the organizers had asked, “What would Tinguely do?” A literally self-destructing event could have been at least more. As one of the evening’s most entertaining speakers, Matmos’s Drew Daniel, put it, “How best to end, and why strive to end well, rather than poorly?”

Left: Artist Tehching Hsieh. Right: Matmos.

This theatrical toast to morbidity played out as three rings of a hellish circus. It is still undetermined who exactly was the biggest dunce—the eager spectators vying for free admission in a queue that wrapped around the block into the cold wintery void (ring 1!); those who snaked up and around the Cattelan merry-go-round to be rewarded with the vertigo and nausea normally saved for an amusement park (ring 2!); or those of us in the belly of the beast (the Peter B. Lewis Theater) who sat through seven hours of speeches, plays, pontifications, performances, Freudian case studies, fertility council (yes, tubal ligation), and critical analyses. This overwrought eulogy was set to a dirge by philosopher and ringleader Simon Critchley, his slow and refined cadence tiredly trying to keep the procession going.

His mission proved futile in advance, especially when many of the thirty-odd speakers subscribed to the romantic construct of the artist, exemplified by Arthur Danto’s use of John Ruskin and his Pre-Raphaelite brothers. Sorry Arthur, I’m more interested in other brethren. Anyway, wasn’t it Allan Kaprow and Robert Smithson who wryly coined the term “museum as mausoleum”?

The night may have peaked at 7:45 PM, with sports guru George Vecsey, who had all the chutzpah of a good NFL commentator. He educated us on the mucho macho ritual known as “hanging it up,” i.e., the retiring of one’s old jock strap, an uplifting celebration consecrated with copious amounts of beer. Need to burp? #Nobigdeal.

Vecsey’s quick-witted, cute commentary had me on the edge of my seat. It effortlessly matched Dada scholar Francis Naumann’s reminder that Duchamp did it first, and did it better—both the hanging, and the quitting. We always return to the daddy of Conceptual art, who slung his readymades from the ceiling to, um, differentiate them from the prosaic non-readymades in the studio. (Ceci n’est pas une pipe! Right on, Magritte!) Duchamp also “quit” art for other activities, such as chess and product packaging.

Left: A video by Harmony Korine for Proenza Schouler. Right: Not an Alternative.

Q: When you get down to it, Maurizio Cattelan is not dead, so what do we have to mourn? A: This tome of an exhibition, sepulchered by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Gugg opened its homestead and offered light snacks to the public, so we could process and supplicate our soon-to-be-departed (but also, actually, not even here) Maurizio.

And why do we have to grieve anyway? I suppose there wasn’t that much to be upset about—except perhaps the unfortunate juxtaposition of an #ows speech followed by Proenza Schouler fashion videos. Thanks, Harmony Korine. In the end, though, as economist Stephen Schwartz (not an artist) and Courtney Love (artist, rock star, movie star) reminded us, it’s all about the Benjamins: the potential profit and power of any practitioner rests in recognizing their choice—to be or not to be . . . an artist, or, conversely, editor of a magazine called Toilet Paper. In her closing remarks, Love noted, “No matter the yacht, oligarch, my-dick-is-so-big bullshit—isn’t there this thing called ‘enough’? But our dealers, our agents, our lawyers want us to die, because when we do, they’ll be so much richer.” So it goes, Eros and Thanatos. Before the end of the evening, I managed to wander up the ramp, where I overheard the lamentations of a gray-haired Upper East Sider:

“See that Zoro painting? I tried to buy it, but I was too late. It already went at auction for $500,000.”

The end is nigh. The end is here. You want to die? Me and Maurizio too.

Left: Courtney Love. Right: Sina Najafi and Simon Critchley.