Maurizio Cattelan is Messing With Us
I’ve got a thing for prankster sculpture.
Jeff Koons, Mike Kelley, and the granddaddy of all art bad boys, Marcel Duchamp, have always proven adept at injecting sly humor into otherwise valid objects of cultural and emotional interest. That is to say, they are known for work that strives to be part of the critical conversation, but that also reserves the right to mock the self-importance of these same institutions. You might call their approach ‘ironic’ if the results weren’t often so poignant and genuinely engaging.
Maurizio Cattelan (whose sculpture/installation ‘untitled’ is pictured above) isn’t always as libidinal as the other artists I mentioned, but — like the others — his sculptures and performances have always been humorous, concerned with art history and how it relates to contemporary culture, and are oftentimes shocking or disturbing. I like the work above because it seems a little more subtle than, say, his suicidal squirrel or squashed Pope, but just as devious, somehow. This piece quotes Richard Serra’s corner prop series of sculptures and also traffics in the classic artistic pursuit of drapery found in everything from the Nike of Samothrace to works by Da Vinci, Caravaggio and beyond. It also, of course, pokes fun at all these things — a janitor’s broom sent to sweep away our tendencies towards preciousness and reverence in the museum. The fact that Cattelan’s pieces are usually meant to inhabit spaces in the museum or gallery that are occupied with artwork that is firmly part of the canon just ups the volume of his idiosyncratic message.
For those of you near Houston, check out the piece above — and many other of Cattelan’s works — dispersed throughout the Menil through August 15th. I wish I could see it! All we’ve got in Seattle is this little dog…