Maurizio Cattelan at Fondation Beyeler
Kaputt is the first exhibition of the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan after his announced retirement during his 2011 Guggenheim retrospective. The show held at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland and focuses on a single ‘old’ piece, presented in a new way – ‘untitled’ of 2007 turns into a five horses installation, on view until October 6, 2013.
Maurizio Cattelan Kaputt primavera by Francesco Bonami (extract from the visitor’s guide)
I came across this dialogue in Kaputt, a novel written by Curzio Malaparte. The characters engaged in this conversation are the author himself and Prince Eugene of Sweden. The first part of the novel is titled “The Horses” and it alone would be enough to gain an understanding of Maurizio Cattelan’s horses. In it, Malaparte writes about horses in a magical way, bringing to mind over and over again all the horses used by Cattelan in his work. In particular, the rotten mare in a pool of mud recalls Untitled (2009), Cattelan’s horse with a swollen belly pierced by a pole bearing a sign with the inscription „INRI.“ Or the horses trapped in the frozen waters of Lake Ladoga in Finland during World War II, with only their heads sticking out, their eyes frozen in terror. Malaparte tells of the frozen heads being used by soldiers as benches on which to smoke their cigarettes and pipes. And of the horrible stench of the rotten corpses when spring arrived, the ice melted and the bloated, dead horses started to float on the surface of the lake. It sounds gruesome and horrendous but actually Malaparte’s writing is very much like Cattelan’s visual language, located somewhere between the magical and the poetic, the tough and the lyrical. Prince Eugene, again, seems to describe it simply but perfectly: “La guerre même n’est qu’un rêve.” War itself is nothing but a dream. The work of Maurizio Cattelan is nothing but a dream—a disturbing dream, perhaps, but nevertheless a dream.
The title of this text is Kaputt Primavera. It refers both to Malaparte’s novel and to his description of spring on the shores of the Finnish lake and, oddly enough, to Botticelli’s Spring. There can be no two images that have less in common than the one of the frozen horses’ heads sticking out of the ice in the middle of a brutal war and Botticelli’s sugary, over-the-top, decorative, allegorical vision. Yet I feel that both converge perfectly into the five horses hanging headless from the wall at the Fondation Beyeler. Fear, despair, tragedy, and allegory are combined in Cattelan’s sensitivity, which has brought him a long way, from being simply a donkey to feeling like a trapped horse. As I said, Malaparte’s novel could be enough for us to gain an understanding of Cattelan’s art. I could easily stop writing here. But instead, I will indulge in an unlikely competition with Malaparte and pave my own path to Cattelan’s five horses. It will be a personal chronology with very personal references, far removed from any scholarly dissertation on Cattelan’s art. For me to talk about Cattelan like a scholar would be an oxymoron. My story is not linear and it’s roughly divided into five short chapters, each of which discusses a work of art that I believe will bring us closer to understanding Cattelan’s parade of suspended horses. The five horses are somehow different from the individual horses that Cattelan presented in the past. The lonely horse is a kind of attempt to escape solitude, a feeling the artist is consttantly fighting. The jump, the effort is delusional and yet heroic. The five horses transform delusion into panic, they escape in a stampede and the individual effort in a feverish crowd. It’s an exodus we’re witnessing, not a search for freedom. Like Malaparte’s horses in Finland that run away from the burning wood into the frozen lake, Cattelan’s horses do not seek freedom but survival.
[divider] About Maurizio Cattelan [/divider]
Born in the northern Italian city of Padua in 1960 and without formal art training, Maurizio Cattelan initially devoted himself to making design objects that rather than a specific purpose tended to fulfil an aesthetic end. At the end of the 1980s he began to turn to visual art. Within a short time he had gained an international reputation of being a provocative personality whose works exploded the physical and intellectual confines of the gallery and museum space and garnered both applause and bafflement. His sculptures and installations ignore conventions, subvert imagery and unwritten publicity laws. Cattelan’s considerable international success attests to a unique visual language that, subtly and shockingly, combines current themes with the humorous and grotesque and reveals a world of failure and despair, wit and sentimentality, shared in a strange way by human beings and animals. Equally at home in the language of hedonistic consumption and Old World melancholy, the artist surprises us by prompting a laugh only to make it stick in our throats.
Solo exhibitions of his work have taken place at the Vienna Secession; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; Kunsthalle Basel; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Cattelan has participated in numerous group exhibitions at internationally renowned art institutions, such as the Museum Fridericianum, Kassel; MoMA PS 1, New York; Castello di Rivoli near Turin; Institute of Contemporary Arts and Tate Gallery, London; and Moderna Museet, Stockholm. He has participated several times in the Venice Biennale. With the retrospective All, shown in 2011-12 at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, Cattelan announced his retirement from the art scene.
The journal Charley is the joint project of Cattelan and the art critics and curators Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick. The trio also curated the 2006 Berlin Biennale, under the title Of Mice and Men. The curators Gioni and Francesco Bonami have been friends of Cattelan’s for years. With Gioni and Subotnick, in 2002 he opened the Wrong Gallery in New York, consisting of a tiny room behind the entrance and subsequently moving to the Tate Modern. This was followed in 2012 by the gallery Family Business in New York (a project by Cattelan and Gioni), where in the immediate proximity to the influential Gagosian Gallery the two devoted themselves to free experimentation.
Cattelan’s fascination with imagery has also been attested to by his magazine projects. Founded in 1995 together with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and subsequently developed with Paola Manfrin, Permanent Food consists entirely of appropriated images that oscillate between the seductive aesthetic of fashion photography and the merciless voyerism of the yellow press. In the context of the Fondation Beyeler exhibition, the eighth issue of Toiletpaper will appear, a journal jointly published with the fashion photographer Pierpaulo Ferrari since 2010. All the photographs for this irregularly issued publication are newly conceived and photographed. Some black and white, others in highly saturated colors, the motifs recall the realm of Surrealism, with highly stylized scenes of dreamlike absurdity, perversion and violence.
Maurizio Cattelan lives in Milan and New York.