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We met Maurizio Cattelan : “Is this interview our first analysis session ?”

 

Five years after announcing his retirement, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is back at the Monnaie de Paris with a show that brings together his greatest masterpieces – many of which have been highly controversial. An encounter.

An interview by Thibaut Wychowanok

Foreground : 

Maurizio Cattelan, La Nona Ora, 1999 Polyester resin, silicon gum, pigment, natural hair, fabric, clothes, accessories, stone, carpet

Background : 

Maurizio Cattelan, Sans titre, 2007 

Silicon gum, natural hair, wood box, wrapping fabric, screws

Maurizio Cattelan, Novecento, 1997 

Stuffed horse, leather saddlery, rope, pulley

Photo : Zeno Zotti

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

Numéro : What criteria did you use when selecting the works to be shown at the Monnaie de Paris?

Maurizio Cattelan : Like many events in a career, it started out as a completely different project. But if life is not always linear, neither are exhibitions. At the very beginning, a solo show was not part of my plan, but then I realized I could stay behind the scenes and direct a new editing of some of my works. It’s an interesting experiment. It’s like listening to a group of individual voices that slowly intone, and in the end become a real chorus.

 

 

“ I tend to flee tragedies – usually via the emergency exit.” Maurizio Cattelan

 

 

 

 

Maurizio Cattelan, Sans titre, 2001 

Polyester resin, wax, pigments, natural hair 

Photo : Zeno Zotti 

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

 

“The duty of art is to ask questions, not to provide answers. And if you want a clearer answer, then you’re in the wrong place.” Maurizio Cattelan

 

 

According to the press release, only major works are being shown. How does one decide that a work is “major”?

If a rule has to be found, I think it might be that of “the three generations.” A work of art has to pass through a trendy phase, a waning period and a comeback. And at that point, if the work survived through till the third generation, you can say if it’s a major work, or a masterpiece even. We can now define what the masterpieces of the 80s are, but it would be misleading to go further. Only from a long perspective can we affirm if a piece has the right combination of importance in the media and relevance in art history, and isn’t just a question of hype.

 

Foreground : Maurizio Cattelan, Sans titre, 2007 Stuffed horse

Background : Maurizio Cattelan, All, 2007 Nine Carrare marble sculptures 

Photo : Zeno Zotti

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

Can an exhibition be an artwork in itself?

Of course not all exhibitions can be artworks, just as not all artists can be curators, but it happens. Think of Philippe Parreno’s recent solo show at HangarBicocca: on paper it was “only” an exhibition of older works, but the result was clearly a brand-new work made up of all the past pieces. One of those cases where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.

 

How can you reinvent yourself with an exhibition of past works?

The fact is that they were conceived for diverse contexts; forcing them to live together under the same roof might weaken them or strengthen them. It’s like moving in with your new girlfriend. Either it could result in love, or in a pile of broken dishes.

 

 

I’m more fascinated by how Americans are obsessed with “royalty.” Maurizio Cattelan

 

Maurizio Cattelan, Sans titre, 2007 Stuffed horse Maurizio Cattelan, All, 2007 Nine Carrare marble sculptures

Maurizio Cattelan, Lessico familiare, 1989 Black and white photograph, silver frame 

Photo : Zeno Zotti

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

 

How do the works at the Monnaie de Paris enter into dialogue with each other?

The architecture of the venue shapes the exhibition − it’s true for every show I ever did. In this case, rooms are at the same time corridors, and from three key points you can see the whole sequence. It’s like being able to see the title of the next chapter before finishing the one you’re reading. There’ll also be a shift in meaning through the captions, which will be “opinionated,” written by different personalities, with arguments for and against the works, so that you can be part of the conversation, and make up your own mind.

 

 

“To me the real question always has been : is there life before death ? The thing that scares me to death is people around me being afraid of everything” Maurizio Cattelan

Maurizio Cattelan, All, 2007 Nine Carrare marble sculptures

Photo : Zeno Zotti 

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

Why did you choose the title Not Afraid of Love ?

From my point of view, love is the missing answer to all the works on show… It’s more about the lack of love, and a desperate lifetime quest for it. It could be a happy ending or not, and this is totally up to the audience.

 

In contrast, death seems to be present everywhere. Could an alternative title be Not Afraid of Death ?

The real question for me has always been, “Is there life before death?” The thing that scares me to death is people around me being afraid of everything… Every pain can be borne as long as it has meaning.

Maurizio Cattelan, Him, 2001 

Polyester resin, wax, human hair, clothes, shoes

Photo : Zeno Zotti 

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

Is art a way for you to exorcise your fear of death?

I guess it’s more fear of love.

 

While some people still see your works as jokes, or as commedia dell’arte, the tragedy aspect is prominent. Why is life such a tragedy for you? Are you more desperate or melancholic?

It’s a common misunderstanding with writers : not everything they write comes from real life, and it’s not strictly autobiographical. The same is true for me. To answer the last part of your question, I would go for melancholic. I don’t feel I’m desperate. And I tend to flee tragedies, usually via the emergency exit.

Maurizio Cattelan, Sans titre, 2007 

Silicon resin, natural hair, wood box, wrapping fabric, screws

Photo : Zeno Zotti

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

Maurizio Cattelan, Sans titre, 2003 

Polyester resin, synthetic hair, clothes, shoes, electronic devices, stainless steel drum

Photo : Zeno Zotti 

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

When we look at your most famous works – for example La Nona Ora or Him – the context in which they were received is so important it almost overwhelms them. Can we still look at your works with a naive eye? Is the context in which they were initially received now part of the work? Do you play with that?

It sure as hell is: the context of a work is part of its meaning, as much as is the point of view − cultural, psychological, social − of the onlooker. Art is a territory that everyone has the skills to explore, because no alphabet is involved, but at the same time no one will get the same sensations and experience as his or her travelling companions. It’s the reign of subjective interpretation.

Maurizio Cattelan, Others, 2011 

Stuffed pigeons

Variable dimensions

Maurizio Cattelan, Mini-Me, 1999 Polyester resin, synthetic hair, paint, clothes

45 x 20 x 23 cm 

Photo : Zeno Zotti

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

Your works often deal with authority figures. Do you have a particular problem with authority? Where does this come from?

Wow, this interview is like being in analysis – revealing but tiring! I’ve admitted this before: going around New York on my bike I discovered I couldn’t even stand a road sign forbidding me from going in the wrong direction. As to where this comes from, I guess it will take more than an interview with you to find out!

Maurizio Cattelan, Sans titre, 2007

Two Labradors and one stuffed chick

Photo : Zeno Zotti

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

Violence is another recurring motif. What’s your take on violence in our societies?

Unfortunately violence is central in everyone’s life, we just can’t help it. It’s all around and inside us. I’ve heard it said that people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. I’m afraid it’s the awful truth, and I wish it wasn’t so.

 

What’s the artist’s role? To challenge authority and society? To reveal hidden truths?

The duty of art is to ask questions, not to provide answers. And if you want a clearer answer, then you’re in the wrong place. A book, or a magazine, or a movie, they’re like a Rorschach test − what you see is your inner and unsayable ego. They reflect with extreme precision who you are, more than who the artist is.

Maurizio Cattelan, Charlie don’t surf, 1997 

Mannequin, school chair and desk, clothes, paint, shoes, pencils 

Photo : Zeno Zotti 

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

Your works have a strong cathartic and liberating effect. They can almost be enjoyed in a psychoanalytical way…

It’s nice to hear that, thank you. Psychology and catharsis are of course a possible way of interpreting them. The scary issue about how information circulates nowadays is that the informant acts on the assumption that people won’t understand − won’t have the patience, and the attention, to think. That implies a certain grade of superficiality. On the contrary, the most necessary task of civilization is to teach people how to think. It should be the primary purpose of every media.

Maurizio Cattelan, Charlie don’t surf, 1997 

Mannequin, school chair and desk, clothes, paint, shoes, pencils 

Maurizio Cattelan, Mother, 1999 Black and white photograph

Photo : Zeno Zotti 

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

What about the gold toilet that you’ve just installed at the New York Guggenheim – has art today reached an anal stage?

Our daily “products” are a recurring issue in the history of art. Indeed they’ve been a human obsession since time immemorial: how much of us remains in what we expel? But it’s undeniable that in Los Angeles people are far more concerned about this than in any other place in the world!

 

What determines the value of an artwork? The market? Critics?

Value is found in learning something new, or in retrieving a memory you’d forgotten. The critics and the market are the means through which this type of content gets more attention and reaches more people. But, as I said earlier, what really counts in the end is time, and the long perspective view on a work that the passage of time allows.

Maurizio Cattelan, Lessico familiare, 1989 Black and white photograph, silver frame

Photo : Zeno Zotti

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

In your work, you represent contemporary myths and figures: Hitler as a symbol of evil, the gallerist as a capitalist figure. Which myths interest you today?

What interests me is some images’ inner power to stick in your mind permanently. This impact is inextricably linked to influence – the more impact you can create, the more influence you have. I’m fascinated by the ability to make things go viral: it feels like the closest we could get to having a human superpower.

 

Are you interested in modern myths created through social networks and reality TV, like Kim Kardashian?

I’m more fascinated by how Americans are obsessed with “royalty.” Although they separated from Britain, a certain nostalgia for the royal family transpires from the whole thing. I’ve recently noticed that there are many more commercial products labelled with the word “royal” in the US than in the UK, starting with toilet paper. I feel that at some level these two facts are linked.

Maurizio Cattelan, Him, 2001 

Polyester resin, wax, human hair, clothes, shoes

Photo : Zeno Zotti 

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

Foreground : Maurizio Cattelan, We, 2010 polyester resin, polyurethane, paint, human hair, clothes, wood

Background : Maurizio Cattelan, Sans titre, 2007 Stuffed horse 

Maurizio Cattelan, Lessico familiare, 1989 Black and white photograph, silver frame

Photo : Zeno Zotti 

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

 

 

Do you think that, in our world, we need to choke and provoke to make people think?

I strongly believe that the only clever word is the one that chokes the throat. I’m pretty sure it’s a senseless task to try to convey your idea to the audience: if something can be reduced to one clear concept, it is surely artistically dead.

 

You’ve frequently said that being an artist is just a job like any other. But after announcing your retirement five years ago, here you are again in the spotlight. Isn’t it time to admit that art is a vocation? Why carry on making art?

Tell me the truth: is this our first analysis session? Or have you decided it’s not your vocation? Why do you persevere as a journalist? Isn’t it time to accept that you should become a psychiatrist? Are we having a next session next week?

Sans titre, 2000 Polyester resin, wax, pigment, natural hair, clothes

Photo : Zeno Zotti 

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

On the wall : 

Maurizio Cattelan, Sans titre, 2007 

Silicon resin, natural hair, wood box, wrapping fabric, screws

Suspended : 

Maurizio Cattelan, Novecento, 1997 

Stuffed horse, leather saddlery, rope, pulley

Photo : Zeno Zotti

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

Maurizio Cattelan, Sans titre (Gérard), 1999 

Plastic mannequin, clothes, shoes

Photo : Zeno Zotti 

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

Maurizio Cattelan, Others, 2011 

Stuffed pigeons

Variable dimensions

Photo : Zeno Zotti

View from Maurizio Cattelan exhibition, Not Afraid of Love at Monnaie de Paris, from october 21rst 2016 until January 8th 2017

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