Artforum, November 2009

Review: Maurizio Cattelan is Dead

By Emily Hall

"Maurizio Cattelan is Dead: Life and Work, 1960-2009" was the most recent of a series of unauthorized homages organized by the Harlem gallery Triple Candie. In a general sense, these exhibitions investigate the ways in which an entity on the sidelines of the art world--one presumably without the right connections or very much money, and definitely without permission--might elbow its way toward the center or, at the very least, force a confrontation with art-world systems of status and access. More specifically, they seem to poke fun at certain key characteristics of the artists they present. Two previous shows covered, with a kind a reverence that was not immediately apparent in the cheekiness of the gesture, David Hammons and Cady Noland, both famously reclusive artists entirely unlike to make work available for exhibitions such as these. Accordingly, these "retrospectives" featured small photocopies of images (for Hammons) and somewhat bastardized re-creations (for Noland). Despite the various unhappy reactions to the exhibitions--from dismay to censure to contempt--and despite the irresolvable nature of their central ethical question of whether it is always wrong to recreate without permission an artist's work, the shows were unexpectedly trenchant looks at what endures in the age of mechanical and digital reproduction.

Cattelan may have been, at one point, elusive (it was rumored, before he became such a celebrity, that he would send friends in his stead for interviews), but now he is omnipresent, his signature pieces so familiar--the pope struck down by a meteorite, Pinocchio drown in a pool--that they have largely ceased to shock. His fictive death, therefore, may have been necessitated by his being an artist about whom we already know too much. He is eminently known as a prankster, a holy fool whose jokes reveal us to ourselves, and the echo here was that of the outrageous borrowings that he has engineered over the course of his career: In one extraordinary Duchampian gesture, Cattelan stoke the entire contents of a gallery in Amsterdam and presented them as his own (Another Fucking Ready-made, 1996). (There are also echoes of the Wrong Gallery, dubbed the "back door to contemporary art," which he began in 2002 with Ali Subotnick and Massimiliano Gioni.) As the target, therefore, of an unauthorized retrospective, he is less spectacular than Hammons or Noland, but entirely apt.

The presentation of "Maurizio Cattelan is Dead" suggested a middle schooler who has left a project to the last minute, with its painted time-line, printouts (in some cases edited to fix typological errors) glued to construction paper, and a handful of re-created Cattelan works set about the gallery. These were svery sly: They were not exact reproductions, but approximation based on what was available, such as the on of Cattelan's Mini-Me, 1999--usuall a doll-size figure that rather uncannily resembles the artist, often pictured perched on a bookshelf, here represented by a mustachioed doll, also perched on a bookshelf, that looks nothing like him, and that was in fact borrowed from a local bar by Triple Candie co-owners Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett. (There is a charming coincidence in the anecdote, relayed elsewhere in the exhibition, that Cattelan was fired from a job in a church gft shop for drawing a Duchamp-style mustche on a figurine of a saint.) These offhand reproductions offered a roundabout investigation of Cattelan's frequent, frank admissions that he has no hand in the produciton of his art beyond the idea itself: If he were in the habit of farming his pieces out to nonprofits without any money, would the works perhaps look less like highly finished museum-ready objects, and more like assemblages from a midnight trip to the ninety-nine-cent store?

"Maurizio Cattelan is Dead" was a hugely affectionate show, more so than your average retrospective, and could very well bring on a new wave of interest in an artist who, despite his prominence, is often seen simply as part of the landscape. The art world is no so full of Cattelan's brand of sleek iconoclasm that we have become too reverent about it. Triple Candie has a particularly pointed way of turning our articles of faith back on themselves--a wonderfully efficacious way of asking us if we still believe in them.



On View