Long before its November 4 opening, Guggenheim’s much-anticipated exhibition, Maurizio Cattelan: All, had been scrawled into our daily planner, which is currently bursting with New York’s myriad fall art offerings. The eccentric Italian artist’s reputation precedes him; past pranks include dressing up one of his curators as a giant pink dildo, affixing a “Be back later” sign to the entrance of his first solo exhibition only to never actually open it, and even asking a friend to pretend to be him for an interview. Guggenheim’s total secrecy regarding the show only fueled the buzz.
The mystery surrounding the exhibition eventually came to light when the leviathan drape covering the pit of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece was unveiled last week: Inside, a group of conservators and engineers had been working meticulously to put together Cattelan’s first (and perhaps last) retrospective, which now hangs—all 128 pieces—from the museum’s skylight, perfectly frozen in time and space.
Cattelan’s canon, composed of a variety of mediums and objects—everything from taxidermy (lots of taxidermy) to refrigerators, gold, and human hair—contributes to his ongoing discussion about history, religion, and popular culture. Often credited as a “satirical sculptor,” he delivers his social critique with a wry, almost Horatian sense of humor. An oversize shopping cart, for example, titled “Less than ten items,” pokes fun at rabid consumerism and the insidious omnipresence of commerce; a war memorial–like granite slate displays a soccer scoreboard for every European country that fought in WWII; and a neon sign kindly reminds us, “Don’t forget to call your mother.”
Historical figures in various states of vulnerable deflation—Hitler on his knees (“Him”, 2001), a meteor-struck Pope John Paul II (“La Nona Hora”, 1999), and a bobble-headed Picasso (“Untitled,” 1998)—clearly demonstrate Cattelan’s relentless questioning of established power and authority.
The artist’s revolutionary works seem to have injected the New York with a dose of fresh air, too: The way the exhibition is constructed allows it to slowly unravel, building a site of sculptural discovery that changes with each successive step up the ramp. Maurizio Cattelan: All also marks Guggenheim’s first step into the world of Mobile Apps—in collaboration with… John Waters. Seriously. The Prince of Puke narrates the show via smartphone.
50 might well be the new 40, but the prolific 51-year old Paduan has earned the right to “retire.” His retirement plan, however, is unexpectedly ambitious: Cattelan has already dipped his fingers into the world of publishing. Toilet Paper, an entirely image-based magazine and his youngest “child” with photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari, is likely to keep him busy enough to avoid planting gardenias.
Maurizio Cattelan: All is on display at Guggenheim Museum until January 22.