Milan

Maurizio Cattelan

Palazzo Reale

Maurizio Cattelan first appeared on the scene around 1990 with nearly imperceptible performance actions that manifested a fear of failure and an intolerance of every constrictive system. In recent years, however, he has occupied increasingly visible terrain. Galleries and magazines—and also outdoor spaces—are among the arenas where Cattelan strikes to the heart of those “things” he often states he wants to touch upon: death, abandonment, forgetfulness, a sense of inadequacy or guilt, and a fascination with power and its refusal. These themes returned in this exhibition in Milan, organized around four works. L.O.V.E., 2010, stood at the center of Piazza degli Affari, facing the Milan Stock Exchange; it is a sculpture of a hand, thirty-seven feet high, with all the fingers chopped off except the middle one, which points upward. Made from Carrara marble and on a monumental pedestal, it is an image the artist has worked with before, but in this case the context produced another interpretation. Behind the raised finger, the piazza, whose architectural layout dates back to the Fascist era, became a stage for the frustrations and misdeeds of a faceless economic crisis.

Sculpture, which for Cattelan is a linguistic medium, functions in his work as a message that produces contrasting effects. In the Palazzo Reale, a short walk away, he installed three well-known works: La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour), 1999, a sculpture depicting Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite and collapsed onto a red wall-to-wall carpet; Untitled, 2003, a puppet of a drummer boy; and Untitled, 2009, which depicts a young woman dressed in white, crucified, with her back to the viewer, in a wooden case. The three works formed a triptych of a modern Holy Family living and dying in the palazzo’s Hall of the Caryatids, the only room in the historic government building that survived the 1943 bombing of the city, where the caryatids of the decorative scheme now have broken-off heads and disfigured bodies. Display cases were arranged along the path leading to this space; they contained plates from a book by the artist, presented as if they were medieval folios. Titled The Three Qattelan and Die / Die More / Die Better / Die Again, they were both published this year by Three Star Books. They show images of nearly all the works Cattelan has created, but the plates and the texts (by Bice Curiger and Francesco Bonami, curator of this show) were painted and handwritten by Chinese calligraphers, thus mediating Cattelan’s own story through the intervention of others.

Cattelan has reversed the meaning of monumental public sculpture, which now celebrates nothing but the failure of the observer, and he addresses the theme of domestic space as a theater of the most savage crimes and their unavoidable catharsis through media spectacle. The exhibition, however, also confirmed the artist’s long-standing attitude toward working with invisibility. Months before the opening, the show had already aroused debates about the scandal that would, it was presumed, be created by the image of the pope felled by a meteorite and lying at the feet of a child. This commotion created a massive presence for the artist in the local press, whose desperate attempt to explain to readers what was being censured seemed perfectly orchestrated by an artist satisfied to watch as this tool of public information was subverted for his own private ends.

Paola Nicolin
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore