He doesn’t care what you think. He doesn’t care if you agree. Maurizio Cattelan cares about highlighting the “contradictions at the core of today’s society” (Guggenheim). Cattelan, an Italian-born conceptual artist, has been loathed and loved for his controversial and at times, illegal pieces. He has showcased his artwork in many cities across the world from Tokyo to Paris to New York since the 1980’s. His work promotes agency and political and social awareness: often in a humorous display. His work is often composed of lifelike human sculptures or dummies as well as taxidermied animals and set against a monotone background to bring attention to the piece itself. By doing this, Cattelan has highlighted many issues such as religion and greed while maintaining open interpretation of his work.
As an illustration, it may be helpful to analyze his piece titled Him. This exhibition if viewed from behind, seems to display a young boy praying in a dimly lit room. As one makes their way around to the front of the sculpture, they realize that it is actually Hitler. This sculpture paints Hitler in a different light in which he wants to possibly atone for his sins. This interpretation by Christies.com begs the question “Could the atrocities Hitler committed ever be forgiven?” While this piece is not illegal like his installation Another Fucking Readymade, in which he literally stole another artist’s display, it is certainly controversial.
He has challenged religion more than once however. Take into account his piece La Nona Hora in which he presented Pope John Paul II lying on the floor after being struck down by a meteor. This was exhibited in Warsaw, Poland where it drew so much criticism the museum curator actually lost her job. Interestingly, Cattelan was later quoted in a press article saying that this artwork showed an “act of mercy” by God to end the suffering of the relentlessly hardworking Pope (New York Times). This proves a very important point. While Cattelan has a message to send to his audience, he maintains an open-ended style, putting some of the burden of interpretation onto the audience.
On numerous occasions, Cattelan, known as a prankster has tackled another social affair – ideology. In one of his most popular pieces, L.OV.E., he crafted a 36 foot tall marble sculpture that “transformed Italy’s Fascist hand salute” into a statue parading a lone middle finger (The collector tribune). While the image of the middle finger alone prove a point, it is important to note the material used and the location of the installment. Cattelan used 36 feet of marble, a material known to symbolize stability and toughness to really emphasize his strong anti fascist and anti authoritarian ideals. Adding another layer, the marble of the base matches the government backround while the marble of the hand is a different color – symbolizing a break from the past and ideals associated with the Italian Stock Exchange. The Italian artist stationed this sculpture right outside of the Italian Stock Exchange, an area that many Italians have associated with the influence of tyranny and oppression. While all of this can be interpreted in the ways mentioned above, it is important to also emphasize that Cattelan Seldom provides concrete explanations for his work.
Finally, Cattelan’s ability to leave his work up to the imagination of the individual has been critical to his success. In doing so, he is essentially able to connect to a broader range of individuals who are all able to interpret the sculpture in their own way. His humorous and detached style widens the curb appeal for his work. Regardless of the attention his works attracts, it does serve to generate conversation which is surely a main goal of the artist. It is easy to see an artwork, but to engage and ponder the piece is another thing entirely. Work from Cattelan among other artists is there, begging for you to interact.