Brilliant artist or simple provocateur? There is no answer. There is no definitive explanation for his works, and Cattelan wants this. The fact remains that – once the unpleasant feeling that comes when standing in front of his work has passed – we are taken in by his undisputed ability to fully understand the absurdity of contemporaneity, making fun of a system. And perhaps he’s poking fun at us as well, which is more or less along the same lines
The Children are watching us, 2004
The artist who hangs children on the trees of Milan’s parks. This is Maurizio Cattelan. They were mannequins, of course, yet they were so realistic that it took a while to realize it. So much so that the author himself said that he risked a lynching when people found out they were his work. A passer-by even tried to pull them down, injuring himself. Regarding this “work”, Cattelan said with feigned naivety that it was nothing more than the tale of Pinocchio, albeit revisited in a CNN key. Do you also remember the statue of Pope John Paul II hit by a meteorite? That’s Cattelan. The suicide squirrel? Cattelan once again. The 18-carat gold toilet that was also fully functional? This was also from Cattelan, and recently talked about it again after it was stolen at an exhibition.
The ninth hour, 1999
What about the time he organized the VI Biennial of Art in the Caribbean? When journalists arrived from all over the world they discovered that there was no biennale, no art. It was all a joke. Maurizio Cattelan is the magician of effective actions. He has been the embodiment of provocation since he was a boy in the town of Padua, Italy. Stories of his youth speak of a city inflamed by the terrorism of the Red Brigades and a boy who could easily have been overwhelmed by the political violence. He once said an interview that he was approached by an extremist, however he was too free a spirit to submit to any diktat. His personality saved him, but he still had to create a future. He completed his higher studies at night school and did small jobs to be independent.
Once he graduated, he had a number of different professions. He worked as an accountant, a nurse, a cook, and even as an antenna repairman. However, the daily grind was suffocating for the Cattelan. Art would come relatively late. At the end of the 1980s, he began attending a group of artists, although he had no training whatsoever. Despite his lack of experience, he began working with various materials and an oxyhydrogen flame. He would take photos and send them to just about any gallery, including those in New York.
Hail Mary, 2007
The Neo gallery in Bologna finally answered him with an invitation to a collective exhibition. Maurizio found himself catapulted into the system. The true turning point was in the 1990s, thanks to a meeting with Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, from the Turin foundation of the same name. She was a great patron of contemporary art at that time. She bought his works and launched him as an emerging artist. Then it was New York’s turn. Introduced in the galleries that count by the artist Rudolf Stingel, he received his definitive consecration in the Olympus of international art. Cattelan says that his great merit is that he is in tune with today’s times.
Frank and Jamie, 2005
He is a great observer, and he says he walks with a notebook to write down everything he sees. The artist immerses himself in the world and often expresses what he sees in a humorous way by removing the normal meaning from the image. According to Cattelan, art must show our everyday life, overturning perspective in order to show us the absurdity. This is why Le Monde called him “first surrealist of the third millennium”. He never gives explanations for his works. The artist says that if a work can be explained, it means that it is weak. While artists can describe how they created a piece, the meaning is never singular and must be reached in a personal way by the observer.
The first they said should be sweet like love the second bitter like life and the third soft like death, 1995
A perfect day, 1999
Cattelan believes that art is made by the audience, and the only task of the artist is to ask questions. The only declared intent is the will to transmit to people the same violent emotion that they feel when he finishes a piece. Today, at almost 60, he continues to be an irreverent young man who has yet to become “great”. He does not spend time with his peers, He says that it is a matter of energy, the need for young blood in human relationships. It seems that his girlfriends also follow this pattern.
He has had relationships with beautiful, young and famous women like Victoria Cabello or Vanessa Beecroft. He was accused of everything, from having created speculative bubbles to being stingy, but he seraphically replies that it was the auction houses that made profits and that he earned his first real money in 2000. Stingy? Only art is important, but he expects to be paid. In this regard, he is inflexible. For many he is a genius while for others he is a bluff. Jonathan Binstock, an expert on contemporary art, considers him “the king of smartasses, whose greatest masterpiece is understanding how to manipulate the media ..”. Cattelan candidly says that his work is available to everyone and anyone can judge. He is a provocateur, answering provocations with a calm gaze.
Anna Maria Calabretta