Maurizio Cattelan is one of, perhaps even, the most famous Italian artist nowadays. He is the one who placed a huge marble middle finger in front of the Italian Stock Exchange in Milan (the base brings the sculpture to a total height of 11 meters). He also describes himself as an idiot and says he is going to retire from making art in less than a year, but nobody believes him—we’re already used to his lies. For example, for many years he sent his friend Massimiliano Gioni, an art curator and critic, to interviews, pretending to be Cattelan himself. The joke even worked with some journalists! At a certain point the news spread, but some still go along with this farce just for fun now. (Well, sometimes.) As Randy Kennedy recently said in the New York Times “The artist Maurizio Cattelan, like Andy Warhol before him, has always loved a good doppelganger…”

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maurizio cattelan fingerhand

Controversial? This is Maurio Cattelan's art


Why should we talk about him? There are a bunch of reasons! First of all, he is an Italian living in New York. He moved there around 1994 and the move generated more press in Italy on his work than ever before. “Oh, yes, he’s gone to New York, he’s really going to make it”, that’s what people probably thought. Perhaps, if he had failed everyone would have forgotten him.


Secondly, the Guggenheim Museum of New York hoting a retrospective exhibit about him. The exhibit started on November 4 – – and it’s expected to be the most unusual thing you can ever imagine. The curator, Nancy Spector, a longtime fan of Cattelan’s works, has decided to hang all the pieces in the middle of the Guggenheim’s rotunda, like salamis in a butcher’s window. No chronological sequence, no themes, no explanation of the (supposed) evolution of his art. Just a show of all the different pieces he made, all together: the flying Hitler and the pope, with a 21-foot-long foosball table and the marble sculpture of the middle-finger…and many more. “Art world expectations and curatorial hierarchies be damned! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright!” (oh, how much I love this part of Kennedy’s article!)


That seems enough to me, don’t you think? Cattelan is one strange and eccentric artist: actually he stumbled in art as a way to avoid a regular job and he started by making wooden furniture for designers like Ettore Sottsass in the eighties. Eventually, he became one of the most interesting “post-duchampian” artists on the market. His strength is in the ability to triger different messages and force viewers to take different positions. This happened exactly with the middle-finger in Milan: the Mayor and the Cultural Assessor gave the permission, but many people in the municipality fought against the scultpture. Many of his pieces have sparked similar condemnations and criticisms. What do you think about the piece that depicts Pope John Paul II being struck by a meteorite? Does that bother you or not? I don’t know about you, but I can ensure that it had a huge impact on numerous Italians, who are mainly Catholics!


the pope maurizio cattelan

Cattelan's art is shocking, but always very effective


He really wants to bite the nerves of people! He hung wax children to a tree and two cops upside down; he made a wax sculpture of Hitler praying on his knees and, when he happened to have no ideas, he stole other people’s. I remember one time when he was arrested in Amsterdam for the theft of art pieces that he wanted to submit to gallery managers as his own…Cool hah? Moreover, one of his ex-girlfriends, the well known artist Vanessa Beecroft, still says that he used to steal her ideas when they were together.


He says: “Art is like poker. A lot of strategies, a lot of bluffs and a lot, a lot of fortune” and “You can enlarge the world, make it smaller, or turn it upside down. These are all tricks of the artist who has run out of ideas or who never had them”. We should give that to him—he is very self conscious and he doesn’t take himself seriously, at least as much as he doesn’t take us (the public/the gallery managers/the journalists/the curators/the politicians/the Pope/anybody) seriously.


Now, we can discuss his good taste if you want, and about his manners. Some years ago, when he started dating the TV presenter Victoria Cabello, I decided that he had good enough taste! Even if they broke up later (that’s the gossip corner), I still like his way of communicating and catching attention. I cannot wait to see his retrospective work at the Guggenheim. But will it really be the end of his work?


portrait of maurizio cattelan

Mr. Maurizio Cattelan