January 15, 2012

Maurizio Cattelan "All" at the Guggenheim

When a good friend suggested, or rather insisted, that I go to see the Cattelan exhibition at The Guggenheim I must confess that at first I thought he meant a show of Catalan artists namely Dalí, Miró, Tàpies and maybe some Gaudi pieces as well.  So on this very brisk Saturday afternoon I walked over to Fifth Avenue and 89th Street and was met with a line of people waiting outside the museum to buy tickets.  Unfortunately I had procrastinated too long - I was having dinner with this friend on Wednesday and besides, the show was closing next weekend so I joined the queue and endured a rather awful street performer "entertaining" his captive audience while we waited.  But when I finally entered the rotunda all was forgiven - this was something worth standing in line for - a fabulously original installation in this singular space and it looked like a lot of fun too!

I'm going to keep you in suspense a little longer and give you some background on the artist.  Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960) is an Italian contemporary artist with a well deserved reputation as a joker if not a "bad boy".  Plagued with insecurities, phobias and foibles, Mr. Cattelan has alternately mocked the art world and conventional society with his sometimes morbid, often shocking and always unorthodox iconography.  Mr. Cattelan, an artist notorious for thwarting exhibitions to the point of bricking up the entrance to a gallery so the visitors could only glimpse the contents through a window, has declared this retrospective his swan song.  He will no longer torture himself with the burden of producing art and the possibility of failure, but wow, is he going out on a high note!

In effect "All" is a title to be taken quite literally.  Mr. Cattelan has assembled almost his entire output since 1989 comprising sculpture, paintings, photographs and drawings, and suspended it from a grid that covers the glass ceiling of Frank Lloyd Wright's magnificent "nautilus" interior.  This site-specific installation features 128 works of art that hang from cords at different heights so the visitor can see different works at each point in his progression up or down the spiral walkway. 

I opted to start at the top and took the elevator up to the sixth floor.  There I was at eye level with the steel beam structure from which the various pieces were hanging.  Despite the maze of ropes and slings visitors could clearly view the individual works but in an entirely different context from a traditional piece-by-piece museum presentation. The installation became an artwork in itself, profiting from this unique space and never to be repeated.

When you look at the photos you may think your eyes are playing tricks on you, but they aren't!  Yes, those are two policemen hanging upside down in "Frank and Jamie", 2002, and a lady in a refrigerator in "Betsy", 2002.  Yes, it is a real, stuffed donkey sitting on a platform "Untitled", 2004, and you guessed it, there really is a faux dinosaur skeleton suspended in "Felix", 2001.

The grey granite tombstone with the World Cup scores engraved "Untitled", 1999, is indeed hanging at the same height as Adolf Hitler kneeling "Him", 2001, and slightly higher than the super-sized foosball table "Stadium"1991.

Works range from the slightly macabre, to the anarchistic to the simply amusing like the taxidermied pigeons "Tourists", 1997, perched on beams and artworks throughout the installation.

Not a show for an animal rights activist for sure, "Love Saves Life", 1995, really is a stuffed rooster on top of a cat on top of a dog on top of a donkey, and the cow below "Untitled", 1997, has scooter handles implanted over its ears.

I wonder what Pablo Picasso suspended above like Superman "Untitled" 1997, is thinking but he certainly isn't bored!

I was almost sorry when I reached the bottom of the ramp and the end of the show.  I leave you with this photo taken from the foyer floor directly below the piece.  It was like the end of a really great carnival ride - exhilarating, breathtaking, thrilling, dizzying but you can't get that grin off your face!

P.S.  Check out the short video on the museum's website for a time-delayed recording of the installation of "All"!

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