Maurizio Cattelan has a deep understanding and highly intellectual approach to art history that is primarily characterized by a distaste for and distrust of the institutionalization of art. Through a long career of art-world subversion, he wants to free us to engage directly with art and come to our own terms with the images presented to us, rather than rely on preconceived notions imposed by art critics, curators, collectors, writers and even in some cases, by artists who aggrandize the myth of art creation rather than the art object. Untitled (2001) is one of the penultimate statements of Cattelan's role as the outlaw or outsider who fights against the comfortable suspension of judgment inherent in imposed knowledge. He seeks to liberate art from the realm of the sacred and return it back to the realm of the secular world, demystifying it and forcing us to once again freely question and analyze our own perceptions and ideas of art. Just as a meteor strikes the Pope in Cattelan's great La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) of 1999, rendering him no longer untouchable, the present work perfectly summarizes Cattelan's intention for art to be purloined out of the static realm of the museum and back into the world.
Cattelan's 1996 paintings of slashed 'Z's announced his self-appointed mission as the outlaw who would challenge and disrupt the authority of the hierarchical system of the art world, just as the fictional Zorro was the sworn enemy of the Spanish rulers in the Mexican province of California. Cattelan is the ultimate outsider – a self-taught artist of humble background who courts controversy and operates outside the rules of the system. In order to successfully challenge the institutionalization of art and the power of its control, Cattelan is obliged to camouflage himself as a buffoon in order to criticize and subvert the institutional system, which, like all systems of power and order, can be intolerant of challenge or assault. Through his wit, his humor and his presence as self-portrait in works such as Mini-Me (1999), Cattelan forces us to realize that we too easily accept the 'canonization' of art presented to us in the pristine, white-walled expanses of museums and galleries. Even when our initial instinct is to question the quality or nature of the art we see, we are bedazzled by the sanctity and aura of a museum's authority and rely instead on the hidden power of institutional acceptance. Cattelan disdains this hermetic and mundane approach in a famous quote from 1999, "Art is what's left between a fax to a gallery, a phone call to a collector and a reservation at some hip restaurant in Tribeca" (interview with Barbara Casavecchia, "I want to Be Famous – Strategies for a Successful Living", FlashArt, no.215, Milan, April-May, 1999, p. 82) Cattelan instead prefers that we express or confront our own inner doubts and insecurities to engage with the art more directly and honestly. Taking on the role of jester, Cattelan seeks to expose the machinery behind the curtain – behind the orthodoxies - much in the same way as Dorothy does in The Wizard of Oz.
Marcel Duchamp's first Readymades are generally considered to be at the origin of an ontological schism in art between the object exhibited and the idea or concept attached to it. Since then, and up to the present day, a large part of artistic production has been characterised by this schism. In the case of Duchamp's famous Fountain (1917), the artistic and aesthetic interest of the object does not lie in the object itself (for instance, in its craft, beauty, rarity, etc.). With works such as these, the connection between the actual object and its conceptual (and artistic) value has to be established and legitimized by the institutions, both critically (through publications and dissertations) and more concretely by displaying the object in renowned exhibitions and art organizations. Ironically, once Duchamp – the ultimate prankster of art - succeeded in highlighting this phenomena of appropriation transformed into high art, he soon abandoned the production of art altogether. Cattelan seeks to reverse this process and remove the interpretative layers that distance us from the object. In an interview with Giacinto Di Pietrantonio in 1988, Cattelan commented, "At the beginning of the century, Duchamp was working with objects and was reacting to the era in which he was living and working. While he was counterpoising them, nowadays we use objects to distance ourselves from the craftsmanship of creation and the fact that creation can be determined by a state of mind, an intimate emotion. This is not the case as far as I am concerned. In my art, I use things which surround me from the society I live in. These are my objects. My message is that we can find a philosophical idea through the television we watch everyday.'' (Francesco Bonami, Nancy Spector, Barbara Vanderlinden and Massimiliano Gioni, Maurizio Cattelan, London 2000, p. 112)
From this point onward, the schism created by ideological art was further enhanced by the aura of the artist as myth or as biography, perfectly represented by Joseph Beuys who is almost the nemesis of Cattelan's pursuit. Beuys' oeuvre is informed by and defined to a large extent by the objects and materials that serve as metaphors of his legend. In La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi from 2000, a miniature effigy of Cattelan, clothed in Beuys' famous felt suit, hangs dejectedly from a clothing rack, imprisoned by the shamanistic persona promoted by Beuys. The work bears the same title as a 1972 work by Beuys where the artist is striding toward the viewer and his felt suit was a sign or metaphor of regeneration. In his work, Cattelan slyly subverts the premise of "we are the revolution" of the title, since his figure is suspended above the ground and trapped into inaction. Cattelan again proclaims his wish to demystify art and to return it from the realm of cognition or conceptual metaphor back into the realm of immediate sensory perception.
In Untitled (2001), Cattelan has committed the ultimate act of purloining or returning art from its pedestal. As an outsider, even an outlaw, many of Cattelan's works dealt with police authority, not just aesthetic authorities. The broken safes of -157.000.000 (1992) – actually picked open by thieves – celebrate the criminal act of confiscation of guarded treasures or values. Super noi (Super Us) from the same year is constructed from composite portraits of Cattelan based on descriptions given to police sketch artists by various friends and relatives. Cattelan has alluded to a criminal's escape with the knotted sheets dangling from the window as if the remains of an action in Una Domenica a Rivara (A Sunday in Rivara) from 1996 installed at Castello di Rivara in Turin. In this work, "Cattelan radically abandons the space of seriousness and respect for traditions symbolically embodied in the architecture of the castle and in the machinery of the art world and engages in a rebellion devoid of any political program" (Francesco Manacorda, Supercontemporanea: Maurizio Cattelan, Milan, 2006, p. 47). By 2001, this cultivated persona of the burglar is ready to tunnel into the inner sanctum of the museum in the present work, entering the art institution to disrupt it and taking us with him.
In the present work, one of Cattelan's self-images emerges from the floor into a gallery of enshrined art history, parodying the veneration of art. Cattelan's oeuvre of the 1990s had included many instances of interventional practice, often in an institutional setting or public setting. In 1997 at Le Consortium in Dijon, Cattelan "dug a coffin-shaped hole in the museum floor and also blocked the entrance to the gallery offices with the front of a wardrobe, which the employees were obliged to pass through to reach their working areas. ..The wardrobe in Dijon was an attempt to define the screen that divides the public from the private.'' (Bonami, et. al, p. 85-87) In the memorable 2001 installation of Untitled at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Holland, the artist's visage emerged up through the floor into a gallery of 18th and 19th Century Dutch paintings. His surrogate self can now be provocatively installed in subsequent museum exhibitions or the home of a collector, but in all cases Cattelan breaches the confines of a temple of art. The interloper has arrived, quizzically gazing around him. "The figure's furtive and cautious gaze makes the scene a metaphor for Cattelan's own position in the history of contemporary art. The artist chooses to depict himself in an illicit position, entering the treasure-house of art history as an interloper. In this way his artistic practice in general is revealed as a form of aggravated burglary of the established and canonical system." (Ibid., p. 81). In this work, the renegade of art has subverted the act of appropriation begun by Marcel Duchamp. Whereas Duchamp initially smuggled ordinary, prosaic objects into the sacred realm of art, Cattelan now steals art from the sacred back to the world we inhabit, all the while highlighting the absurdity of the process.
Painted wax, hair and fabric
Trento, Galleria Civica de Arte Contemporanea, Maurizio Cattelan, New Project for the Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea Trento, March - September 2004 (another example)
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, extended loan (another example)
Figure: height: 59 in. 150 cm. Hole: 23 5/8 x 15 3/4 in. 60 x 40 cm.
Exh. Cat., Athens, Deste Foundation, Monument to Now, 2004, pp. 58 - 59, illustrated in color (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Installation) fig. D, p. 73, illustrated in color and p. 77, illustrated in color (another example)
Francesco Bonami, Nancy Spector, Barbara Vanderlinden and Massimiliano Gioni, Maurizio Cattelan, New York and London, 2003, pp. 152 - 153, illustrated in color (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Installation)
Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris
Christie's New York, November 10, 2004, lot 6
Acquired by the present owner from the above