This story gets off on the wrong foot.
It involves an artist who is already the subject of a lot of talk – arguably a little too much – and who caused several scandals in the 2000s, through his art, and also with his record prices.
In the 2010s he’s mainly distinguished himself with a flood of gaudy images designed to leave a mark on the viewer’s retina which he published in a magazine called Toilet Paper and which are distributed liberally through various partnerships.
You’ve probably guessed it’s Maurizio Cattelan (born 1960) we’re talking about.
Before the interview that was going to accompany his new show at Hotel de la Monnaie in Paris I was informed: Send your questions by email, he’ll answer by email. Fine!
Why not comply with a request you’d expect from a politician.
Eventually I met Maurizio Cattelan. The overall impression I got from this meeting was that Cattelan is an honest artist.
It’s a cardinal virtue. Yes, he loves to play the clown.
The proof is I’ve followed him across the rooftops of La Monnaie where he was supposed to be doing a photoshoot with his friend Pier Paolo Ferrari (they both work together on the Toilet Paper project).
We had a lot of fun.
Maurizio rang the bells on the roof of La Monnaie building, he balanced himself against the Paris sky, posed this way, then the other, in front one of the most beautiful views in the world…
But when it came to getting down to the nitty-gritty, about art, about youth and about old age (ageing visibly unsettles him) about the serious side of his work etc. Cattelan did not want to be filmed. “It doesn’t work well with me”.
The guiding principle of what’s being shown at La Monnaie in 18 pieces is an artist who spends his time questioning himself and his relevance.
Chiara Parisi, the excellent artistic director of this spectacular place says, “He’s a slow artist“. He explains that at La Monnaie he was supposed to be showing new pieces but at the last minute he said they weren’t ready.
“Chiara replied : ‘It’s too late to cancel. So I’m going to do a show about you, but without you.’ I loved the idea.”
The evidence of Cattelan, however is present.
Indeed it’s very present, for a number of works shown in Paris are mini-Catttelans in various adventures: a mini him with his twin in a bed (a piece resembling the one in the Francois Pinault collection showing in Essen at the moment. See http://judithbenhamouhuet.com/report/the-pinault-collection-another-portion-of-his-giant-collection-is-unveiled-in-essen).
But also the pigeon is Catellan.
The kid is Cattelan.
Even Hitler is probably Cattelan on one side (the good one).
What is the point of all of this? An introspective Cattelan in 3D.
However to the question whether nacissism is dangerous for an artist he replies: “If we become our own obsession, if we are the only subject, then just like Narcissus we die from the despair of never being able to seize our own image.”
I also quiz him about his retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2011 when he announced he was going to retire from making art:
“The exhibition at the Guggenheim was the best end point I could give my career at that precise moment. That ‘retirement’ allowed me to look at some of my works in a different light, to discover some kind of continuity, a guiding thread that I had not spotted when I was making them. It’s the subject of this show at La Monnaie in Paris, trying to assemble works that have a great deal in common.”
The last time he had a gallery exhibition was in 2002, he says.
His latest work has just been unveiled and put on display for one year at the Guggenheim museum in New York. He’d actually like it to stay there: solid gold toilets that he’s titled ‘America‘. The comments from the person concerned: “It’s a rare privilege to find yourself one-on-one with a work of art. When is the last time it happened to you?“
A question: where exactly do you go after installing golden toilets in the Guggenheim?
Cattelan becomes serious again:
“I’ve had so many careers that I’m no longer really sure – but what is certain is that this exhibition at La Monnaie in Paris marks the end of a very important cycle in my life.”
In fact, Cattelan confides that he’s hoping that with this exhibition at La Monnaie people will understand that he is a serious artist. But when I then ask him if being serious is that important he concludes: “Nothing is more serious than irony.”
Like all interesting characters Cattelan is a bundle of contradictions.
A serious clown who addresses bodily functions, gold, death, dramas and pigeons in one fell swoop.