Maurizio Cattelan

Nancy Spector

Guggenheim Museum Publications




The Aesthetics of Failure

Political Dimensions

Duality and Death

From Disrespect to Iconoclasm
[online sample chapter]

Spectacle Culture and the Mediated Image


Selected Bibliography

Selected Exhibition History


Katherine Brinson, Diana Kamin,

William S. Smith, Susan Thompson

The Leadership Committee for Maurizio Cattelan: All is gratefully acknowledged.

Founding Members
Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen Foundation
Amalia Dayan and Adam Lindemann
Massimo De Carlo
Danielle and David Ganek
Judie and Howard Ganek
Marian Goodman
The Mugrabi Collection
Gael Neeson and Stefan Edlis
Galerie Perrotin
Amy and John Phelan
Samantha and Aby Rosen
Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin
Beth Swofford
Lisa and Steven Tananbaum
David Teiger
And those who wish to remain anonymous

Henry Buhl
Dakis Joannou

Attilio Codognato
Honor Fraser and Stavros Merjos
Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte

As of August 3, 2011


Photo Credits and Copyright Notices


Jerry Saltz:
"I expected a punch line by the art world's favorite jokester, but left the Guggenheim in awe."
New York Magazine



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Chapter IV

from disrespect to iconoclasm

I never purposely decide to create a scandal, to provoke. . . . Images sometimes manage to anticipate the future, and maybe that’s what scandalizes the public—not to recognize themselves in what they see.

CATTELAN’S early reputation in the art world as a troublemaker was fostered by his seeming lack of respect for all forms of authority. His initial admission that his art focused on the “the ironic-disobedient-childish aspects of [his] personality” has extended into a long-standing professional impertinence. The arc of his work can be charted as a movement from one act of insubordination to another, with each project exhibiting increasing amounts of complexity and conceptual nuance.

One such chain of production revolved around performative actions involving Cattelan’s dealers, who over the years were incorporated into artworks, put on display, and mocked if not exploited. The first incarnation of this scheme took place in 1993 at Galleria Raucci/Santamaria in Naples, when the artist convinced the two owners, Umberto Raucci and Carlo Santamaria, to wear full-body lion costumes in the gallery for the duration of his solo exhibition. Their presence constituted a live piece entitled Tarzan & Jane (cat. no. 19), the only work on view, which Cattelan recorded in a group of photographs. Similarly, for the duration of his 1995 solo exhibition at Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris, he persuaded Perrotin to don a costume he commissioned from the designers at the renowned Italian film studio CineCittà. Looking like a cross between a rabbit and a giant phallus, the hot pink costume poked fun at Perrotin’s reputation as an inveterate womanizer. Titled Errotin, le vrai lapin (Errotin, the true rabbit), with a punning wit reminiscent of Duchamp, the exhibition also included humorous cartoons of the hybrid bunny in action, which Cattelan had commissioned from Italian comics artist Umberto Manfrin to accompany the performance. While there were these tangible objects for sale (albeit only in the back room of the gallery), the show fundamentally comprised the artist’s incisive realignment of the power structure between artist and gallerist. In particular, Perrotin’s sexualized performance recalled a time when artists like Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, VALIE EXPORT, and Gina Pane used their respective galleries to present various manifestations of body art during the 1970s. Acconci’s explicit eroticization of the space in Seedbed (presented at Sonnabend Gallery, New York, in 1972) is an apt comparison, especially since Cattelan included faux ejaculate stains on Perrotin’s walls. But rather than exposing himself, literally or figuratively, he forced his dealer into the spotlight, who took the kind of risk usually reserved for the exhibiting artist.

Errotin, le vrai lapin

fig. 26
Errotin, le vrai lapin, 1995

As a final act in this trilogy of “gallerist abuse,” Cattelan duct-taped Massimo De Carlo, his Milan dealer, to the wall in a DIY crucifixion. Martyred for the good of the business in an untitled performance (formerly titled, ambiguously, A Perfect Day, fig. 25) in 1999, De Carlo was rushed to the hospital before the end of the opening after losing consciousness from being suspended for so long. Despite any seeming hostility on Cattelan’s part in these works, the impulse behind the spirited efforts to create spectacles out of art dealers was not rooted in a condemnation of the gallery system. His work, like that of others of his generation, can be considered as post-institutional critique. His goal, in the spirit of artistic peers like Pierre Huyghe and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, is less to reframe and subvert the inherently reifying powers of a museum or gallery than to activate the exhibition environment, to create slippages between the aestheticizing space of art and the world at large in order to shed light on both. As with his faux 6th Caribbean Biennial or the earlier Working Is a Bad Job, Cattelan deliberately obscures where the art begins or ends, allowing elements of the everyday to infiltrate the otherwise rarefied realm of the exhibition space, requiring a more dynamic engagement from the viewer than mere contemplation. “How can I contest the system if I’m totally inside it?” he asks. “I want benefits from this system. . . . I’m not trying to be against institutions or museums. Maybe I’m just saying that we are all corrupted in a way; life itself is corrupted, and that’s the way we like it.” 

While Cattelan may admit that his relationship to the museum is symbiotic, he has not spared it his caustic, probing wit. When invited, for instance, to participate in the 1997 SITE Santa Fe biennial in an exhibition curated by Francesco Bonami, the artist took full advantage of the coincidence that, during the very same month that the exhibition was opening, a new Georgia O’Keeffe museum was being inaugurated in Santa Fe. A long-time resident of the region and, to many, its visual poet, O’Keeffe is a patron saint of American abstraction. Taking full advantage of her cultural stature, Cattelan “invited” the artist to his exhibition opening: an actor wearing an oversize papier-mâché Georgia O’Keeffe head mingled among the guests, holding a cigar and holding court (cat. no. 53). Cattelan’s humorous commentary about the hagiographic commodification of cultural producers crystallized in a subsequent museum intervention, part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Projects series in 1998. For the exhibition, he put Pablo Picasso on display—not the myriad masterpieces in the museum’s collection but rather the figure of Picasso as a popular icon of artistic genius. Venerated by many as the greatest artist of the twentieth century, Picasso’s career is inextricably bound up with the museum’s history. MoMA owns some of his greatest works and has mounted more than one definitive retrospective of his oeuvre. The institution’s very definition of modern art revolves around Picasso’s aesthetic innovations; it has read the artistic achievements of the first half of the century in contrast and comparison to his express ideas. Cattelan interpreted Picasso’s institutional profile as that of a mascot, the kind encountered at athletic events wearing some outlandish, larger-than-life costume, revving up the crowd. He hired an actor to masquerade as the artist, complete with signature striped T-shirt and an exaggeratedly large, molded head mask. During the run of the show, this Picasso greeted crowds in the lobby, shook hands, and posed for photographs (cat. no. 54). Sometimes he would lounge on benches and flirt with visitors. He was even caught panhandling before being asked by museum officials to stop such uncouth, unscripted behavior. This performative work (the show’s only element) exposed what by the mid-1990s had become a growing correlation between museums and entertainment centers, where content is geared toward the lowest common denominator. The presence of Cattelan’s Picasso as a friendly face, an inviting host, easily resembled those cartoon characters come-to-life at Disneyland, the emblematic locus for lowbrow but wholesome amusement. Cattelan recognized his own complicity in the phenomenon: the more popular his own exhibition (and it was much loved by the public), the greater the risk to the museum and the artist of seeming to “dumb down” their content to a point of no return.


fig. 27
Untitled, 1998

The artist’s apparent need to rebel against authority figures (or at least mercilessly tease them) recalls a classical Freudian oedipal complex. As applied to culture by literary critic Harold Bloom in his famous study The Anxiety of Influence, the concept involves a creative misreading, a necessary misinterpretation by the artist of that which has come before. “The history of fruitful poetic influence,” he explained, “is a history of anxiety and self-saving caricature, of distortion, of perverse, wilful revisionism without which modern poetry as such could not exist.” Cattelan has made a practice of deliberately disfiguring the art of his “fathers,” modern Italian forerunners whose cultural importance and influence is indisputable. In a number of untitled works (1993–99, fig. 28, cat. no. 23), he reimagined the Concetti spaziali (Spatial concepts, 1949–60) paintings of Lucio Fontana, monochrome canvases perforated with multiple slashes to underscore the work’s dimensional presence in space. Cattelan’s playful revision of this singular contribution to Italian art was to reconfigure Fontana’s slashes into a Z, the mark of Zorro, that outlaw hero from popular culture immortalized in pulp fiction, Hollywood films, and a 1950s Disney TV series. The artist claims to have stumbled across a canvas punctured with the distinctive Z as a readymade of sorts, not wanting, perhaps, to own up to creating such an obvious violation of Fontana’s art. The presence of the Zorro paintings in Cattelan’s oeuvre solves a practical problem for him that exists by virtue of the fact that he makes almost every piece in response to a specific situation and in singular form: he does not tend to work in series per se, developing an idea over a prolonged period through numerous iterations of a particular theme. The Zorro paintings, however, exist in varying sizes and colors, thus providing him with “product” to feed an always-demanding market system. 


fig. 28
Untitled, 1997

Another of Cattelan’s Italian “father figures”—one perhaps more influential on his work—is Piero Manzoni. Playing on the notion of the artist as a kind of priest, anointing his “disciples” living works of art by signing their bodies, he also created a variety of projects involving the fetishization and commodification of his own bodily substances. Manzoni sold balloons filled with his own breath (“artist’s breath”) and small tin cans filled with excrement (“artist’s shit”), the latter of which was priced in accordance with the daily exchange rate for gold. His ironic, performative practice and manipulations of the market are especially relevant to Cattelan, who took his most distinct aim at it in an untitled 2009 work that clearly references Manzoni’s Achromes (1957–63), white “paintings” constructed from folded cloth saturated with the claylike substance kaolin. Imageless and “colorless,” these radical works were intended to transcend representation. Their solid ridges and wrinkles reference only themselves in what the artist deemed a “tautological” space. In a gesture that can be construed as part homage, part desecration, Cattelan made his own “Achrome.” But instead of molding the sodden canvas into deliberate creases, he simply propped it up with a janitor’s broom and left it there to dry, with the broom becoming part of the final work (cat. no. 106). In one stroke, Cattelan demoted Manzoni from artist-seer to simple laborer, a reality exploited by Manzoni himself. In his all-too-brief career, Manzoni investigated the artist’s relation to his or her own means of production and the collision between aesthetic value and exchange value. By satirically eliding the separation between artist and work of art (and, for that matter, between viewer and work of art), Manzoni demystified the explicitly modernist belief that artistic labor is nonalienated labor. He recognized that the aesthetic object—and, by extension, the famous artist—becomes, like anything else in the postwar capitalist economy, a reified commodity. Cattelan, whose attitude toward the art system indicates his keen understanding of this situation, played off this fact in 2004 when he donated a work to a museum fund-raiser (as artists are often asked to do) simply by signing a personal check for one dollar (cat. no. 96).  His signature alone inflated its value well beyond that amount, earning the museum a substantial sum of money.

Cattelan has always claimed that reality is his source material; he simply reflects what he observes in the world, translating it into memorable objects and indelible images. This was the rationale he offered for his contribution of taxidermied pigeons to the Italian Pavilion at the 1997 Venice Biennale (Tourists), when he was invited by Artistic Director Germano Celant to exhibit alongside key representatives from previous generations of Italian art, Enzo Cucchi and Ettore Spalletti. “I had gone to see the pavilion in Venice about a month before the opening of the exhibition,” Cattelan said. “The inside was a shambles and it was filled, really filled, with pigeons. For me as an Italian, it was like seeing something you’re not supposed to see, like the dressing room of the Pope. But then again that is the situation in Venice, so I thought I should just present it as is, a normal situation.” Perched on rafters and the edges of dividing walls, Cattelan’s lifelike pigeons threatened at every moment to interrupt the exhibition by swooping down in search of food, as they do in Piazza San Marco, a kilometer or so away, where tourists delight in posing with them for photographs. Their presence in the gallery, while reflecting the reality of the city outside, distracted from and disrupted the experience of the other artists’ work. In the case of Spalletti, whose fine, pigment-covered, monochrome surfaces could be ruined by the slightest touch, the birds were particularly disquieting. Cattelan’s intervention as the youngest of the three in Celant’s presentation of the “Future, Present, and Past” of Italian art came off as a lively affront to his elders. His daring irreverence, reinforced by the faux pigeon excrement he inserted in many inauspicious places (“Of course, where there are pigeons, there is pigeon shit”), felt fresh and new; it unquestionably embodied the passage of one generation to another.


fig. 29
Tourists, 1997

Cattelan’s targets have not always been art related; he attacks ecumenically, striking wherever he perceives inflated authority. In his sensationalist sculpture of Pope John Paul II felled by a meteorite, La Nona Ora (The ninth hour, 1999, , cat. no. 68), the artist fulfills the dual meaning of the word iconoclast, both as someone who challenges tradition, seeking to break the stronghold of power, and as someone who destroys religious images in opposition to the worship of false idols. Created on the occasion of his solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle Basel, La Nona Ora is perhaps the artist’s most incendiary work, touching multiple cultural and religious nerves. It is also his most theatrical. Set on a regal red carpet and surrounded by shards of broken glass—the residue of a skylight broken by the plummeting meteorite—the pope lies inert on the ground bearing the weight of the celestial stone. A strikingly real portrait of the then-reigning pontiff, the figure is dressed in full ceremonial regalia, ferula in hand. His face shows both pain and confusion, pure shock at the extraordinary incident that has just occurred. The title, like that of the little Pinocchio, Daddy, Daddy, refers to the moment on the cross when Christ calls out to his father in anguish. Cattelan’s dramatic mise-en-scène elicited cries of blasphemy and, like the hanging boys cut down from a tree by an enraged passerby a few years later, the sculpture was vandalized by outraged viewers. When on view at Warsaw’s Zachęta National Gallery of Art in the pope’s native Poland, two right-wing members of parliament attempted to upright the fallen figure, leaving a copy of a letter one had written to the prime minister demanding the dismissal of the museum’s director, Anda Rottenberg. Pointing to her Jewish origins, it accused her of spending state money—belonging, the logic went, to the country’s Roman Catholic majority—on offensive works of art and suggested that she relocate to Israel. Subsequently, ninety members of parliament issued another letter demanding that Rottenberg be immediately fired. Though the president of Poland, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, and two local priests tried to quell the controversy, proclaiming publicly that Cattelan’s sculpture functioned as an allegory for the “pope’s heavenly burden,” Rottenberg was forced to resign.

La Nona Hora

fig. 30
La Nona Ora, 1999

Setting the anti-Semitic implications of this scenario aside, the violent reaction to the work is indicative of the contradictory nature of religious imagery. For some viewers, clearly, Cattelan’s highly veristic sculpture of the pope, a synecdoche for the Catholic Church, conjured up the illusory quality of sacred icons—the idea that the image itself is worthy of worship. The confusion between a representation and the ideal for which it stands lies at the core of religious iconoclasm, which is by no means limited to Christianity. And the idea that an image faithful to its original could actually be equal to that original forms the basis of idolatry, which is prohibited by the three main monotheistic religions. Nevertheless, in the Catholic Church at least, with its elaborate icons, stained-glass windows, statuary, and reliquaries, the power granted to the image is unquestionable. Cattelan’s effigy of the pope and the public’s reaction to it strike at the heart of this paradox. The controversy in Poland revealed that people seemed to subconsciously believe that the artist was harming the pontiff himself by harming an effigy of him; which, however erroneous, underscored Cattelan’s own conviction in the almost magical power of images.

The artist has defended La Nona Ora, claiming that it was not meant as a provocation. It was, he said, “certainly not anti-Catholic, coming from me, who grew up singing in the church choir between saints and altar boys. The pope is more a way of reminding us that power, whatever power, has an expiration date, just like milk.” Initially, he asserted, he did not plan to represent the pope in such a harrowing and compromised situation. Rather he imagined the figure standing and holding his staff, as pictured in many portraits, both painted and in wax. But he felt that, so conceived, the sculpture “lacked drama and the capacity to convey the feeling of being in front of something extraordinary and powerful. It didn’t have the sense of failure and defeat.” Whether an essay in vanquished power or modern-day martyrdom, the piece intentionally or not comments on the precarious position of the Roman Catholic Church in contemporary Italy and the world at large. No longer the voice of absolute authority in Rome, though still maintaining great power, the Church has lost much of its moral authority through recent sex-abuse scandals and its discriminatory policies toward women and homosexuals. In some ways, the sculpture—with its mordant, slapstick sensibility—conveys a confusion between piety and protest. Perhaps the fallen pope represents a church crushed not by heavenly burden, as Poland’s President Kwaśniewski suggested, but under the spiritual and social needs of its constituents, a portion of humanity it ignores at its peril.


fig. 31
Him, 2001

Cattelan invoked another icon of power—albeit power in its most corrupt form—in the sculpture Him (2001, , cat. no. 82), a wax effigy of Adolf Hitler kneeling in supplication, hands clasped and looking upward as if in prayer. Rendered at a slightly diminutive scale and dressed in schoolboy attire circa 1935, the figure is radically destabilizing. Here is an image of “evil incarnate,” to borrow the artist’s own words, but in an unexpected if not inconceivable pose of repentance. This unimaginable scenario asks the question whether forgiveness for the atrocities of Hitler’s mad dictatorship could ever be possible. The paradox it presents reverberates in Cattelan’s Ave Maria, which also conflates the abuse of power with the question of absolution. The wounds from the Third Reich are still fresh, the damage wrought irreversible. The dangerous, anti-Semitic ideas perpetrated by Nazism are still in circulation today and continue to threaten the social order—hence the decision by Sonsbeek to reject Cattelan’s proposal for a poster campaign announcing a skinhead rally. In Germany it is strictly forbidden even today to publish an edition of Hitler’s manifesto, Mein Kampf (1925–26): banned since 1945, the book, it is feared, would inspire further acts of evil. For many, the Holocaust itself is beyond representation; the tragedy is so enormous that it defeats any attempt at description or illustration. Cattelan’s title, Him, a simple pronoun in place of the figure’s actual name (which it suggests is too horrifying to utter), encapsulates this resistance and underscores the potency this reference still has today. When asked in an interview about the sculpture, the artist explained his ambiguous relationship to it:

I wanted to destroy it myself. I changed my mind a thousand times, every day. Hitler is pure fear; it’s an image of terrible pain. It even hurts to pronounce his name. And yet that name has conquered my memory, it lives in my head, even if it remains taboo. Hitler is everywhere, haunting the specter of history; and yet he is unmentionable, irreproducible, wrapped in a blanket of silence. I’m not trying to offend anyone. I don’t want to raise a new conflict or create some publicity; I would just like that image to become a territory for negotiation or a test for our psychoses. 

Cattelan’s efforts to open a space for contemplation have largely failed outside the confines of the art world; like the stricken pope, Him continues to raise controversy, albeit a constructive one. While no one has attempted to vandalize the Hitler sculpture, its reproduction was forbidden for use in the advertising campaign associated with the artist’s solo exhibition at the Palazzo Reale in Milan in 2010. The mayor, who permitted the artist’s monumental marble sculpture of a raised middle finger in the Piazza Affari, would not condone a poster showing a black-and-white picture of Him out of respect for the concerns of the local Jewish community. Its public presence was deemed too offensive and potentially inflammatory. A spokesperson for Milan’s main Jewish organization, Roberto Jarach, stated, “The ad wounds our sensitivity and that of many people, overriding the sarcastic message of Hitler begging forgiveness.”

While the image of Hitler is certainly troubling on any account, it does exist in the popular imagination. Countless Hollywood films, documentaries, and fiction and nonfiction books have grappled with his legacy. What is most disturbing, then, about Cattelan’s lifelike rendering is its petite size. Hitler’s visage is that of a middle-aged man—perhaps the age he was when he committed suicide in 1945—but his body is the size of a child’s. His kneeling stance and upward gaze make the incongruity of scale that much more pronounced and contribute to the viewer’s sensation of towering over the sculpture. The viewer is thus placed in an exceedingly uncomfortable position of authority, a position to mete out judgment, including the impossible notion of absolution. Cattelan has used this formal device before, playing with scale to invert expectations and to complicate interpretation in meaningful and provocative ways. About his suicidal squirrel piece, Bidibidobidiboo, for instance, he explained, “I really liked the idea of placing it on the floor in the room. I also liked the idea of seeing the piece while bending or kneeling on the floor. It added a kind of spirituality to the piece. You had to look at it as if you were praying.” While Cattelan’s usual tendency is to miniaturize—even the second edition of his Phaidon monograph is a quarter of its original scale—he has on occasion done the opposite. Felix (2001, cat. no. 81), for instance, is a twenty-six-by-twenty-foot skeleton of a house cat that he created for the atrium of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. It was modeled on a popular attraction at the nearby Field Museum of Natural History—Sue, the largest and most intact Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. Named after the famous cartoon character Felix the Cat, the surreal sculpture disconcerts its viewers through the deliberate disproportion between subject and size.

In Frank and Jamie (2002, , cat. no. 88), it is not a scale shift but rather an outlandish configuration that engenders the uncanny effect of this hyperrealistic sculpture: two New York City policemen stand at their beat, but they have been turned upside down and propped against the wall like planks of wood. Upended, these icons of social order have been rendered impotent. But as in La Nona Ora and Him, Cattelan’s sustained attack on signs of authority is never restricted to only one connotative level. His treatment of the New York City police stems not from a naïve antiestablishment impulse but rather an empathetic response to these public servants’ inevitable fallibility, which is far more profound than easy objects of ridicule like police corruption. Frank and Jamie is a monument to a failure, one that involves a more far-reaching breakdown of the social order. Morphologically, the side-by-side figures comprising the sculpture—which, because upside down, are semiabstracted—recall the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The allusion is ever so slight, but it is sufficient to invoke the tragic events of September 11, 2001. What this antimemorial suggests is the impossibility of the police (and the government, for that matter) to truly protect innocent citizens from cataclysmic events. Though invested with power, the state failed to anticipate the magnitude of the September 11 terrorist attacks or protect its citizens from them. And while these failures were profound, more striking is the inability of the powers that be to understand and ameliorate what motivates such violence. While Cattelan has denied making work in direct reaction to 9/11, this elegiac sculpture bears its scars. Like his hyperrealistic renderings of the pope and Hitler, Frank and Jamie is a paradox. It resembles a freeze-frame from a slapstick routine, but it is really an open-ended invitation from the artist to contemplate a morally complex situation. He has claimed that art must “talk about all and nothing” if it expects to “survive more than a season,” so he brokers largely in metaphor and allusion. There are no answers in Cattelan’s art, only scenarios to be deciphered and doubts pondered.

Frank and Jamie

fig. 32
Frank and Jamie, 2002

In 2004, Cattelan created a fourth work in his cycle of iconoclastic meditations on power and its legitimizing systems. Now (, cat. no. 93) is a wax effigy of an impeccably groomed John F. Kennedy lying in state. Shocking in its serenity, the piece imagines a scene never available to the American public after the brutal assassination of the president on November 22, 1963: a view of Kennedy in an open coffin. Cattelan further complicates this already impossible image by showing the suited figure without shoes or socks; his bare feet, like those of the woman in the crate, render him saintlike, a martyr to American idealism. Its first presentation, alone in a seventeenth-century chapel at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris (as part of an exhibition at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris), reinforced the beatific aura of the body, the votive-like presence of the waxen corpse. Furthering the reflections of Frank and Jamie, this sculpture represents the artist’s response to a post-9/11 nation, a country with little optimism and, for many, a highly questionable leadership. The image of the much-beloved former president functions as a memento mori for all that has been lost—faith, optimism, a belief in the U.S. as a beacon of good. Cattelan sees the sculpture as representing a “spettro, the ghost of something missing” even if the missing elements were purely imaginary to begin with. Its emphatic reference to the present—Now—makes this piece a statement about the moral bankruptcy of the moment. If Kennedy and his invented Camelot have served as a symbol for the enlightened confidence of the American people, then his funereal presence only accentuates its absence today.


fig. 33
Now, 2004

Taken collectively, Cattelan’s effigies of John Paul II, Kennedy, Hitler, and two average city cops present a persuasive essay on the limits and abuses of power. They are also all linked, like the artist’s doubles and surrogates, by their inextricable relationship to death. Whether victim or victimizer, these figures participate in narratives about the dead and dying: a stricken pope as symbol for a conflicted faith; a killer on a monstrous scale seeking absolution; a slain leader; and two fatalities of a terrorist plot. One can imagine their coexistence in a special chamber of a wax museum dedicated to the atrocities of the last hundred years. Mute and embalmed, they all invoke the specters of modern history, their stories palpitating with loss and suffering. Uncannily veristic yet distorted by the artist’s intervention in their scale, position, or attributes, these characters are unified by their morbidity. They constitute a new form of statuary, functioning as modern-day icons that are ultimately iconoclastic, raging against authority and lamenting the lost promises of political idealism.



From Disrespect to Iconoclasm

from Maurizio Cattelan: All by Nancy Spector


fig. 25
Untitled, 1997

fig. 26
Errotin, le vrai lapin, 1995

fig. 27
Untitled, 1998

fig. 28
Untitled, 1997

fig. 29
Tourists, 1997

fig. 30
La Nona Ora, 1999

fig. 31
Him, 2001

fig. 32
Frank and Jamie, 2002

fig. 33
Now, 2004

75 “An Interview with Maurizio Cattelan,” by Andrea Bellini, Sculpture 24, no. 7 (September 2005),

76 This point was made by Jeff Rian in his review of the exhibition. See “Maurizio Cattelan: MA Galerie, Paris,” Frieze, no. 23 (Summer 1995), p. 67.

77 For Seedbed, Acconci occupied the space under a false floor, masturbating and speaking through a microphone to visitors walking above in an attempt to establish an “intimate” connection with them.

78 See Spector, “theanyspacewhatever,” p. 16.

79 “Nancy Spector in Conversation with Maurizio Cattelan,” pp. 34–35.

80 Cattelan’s embrace of Picasso’s persona as an emblem for his work interestingly comments on his own strategic positioning of his self as a performative project.

81 This point was made by Laura Hoptman, the exhibition’s curator, in an essay for a MoMA brochure published after Cattelan’s project had ended. See Projects 65: Maurizio Cattelan (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1999), unpaginated.

82 See Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 30.

83 Manzoni’s brilliant equation of money, art, and excrement recalls and amplifies Duchamp’s formulaic definition of art: “Arrhe est à art ce que merdre est à merde.” Les arrhes, a plural noun meaning “down payment,” is homophonic with the French noun l’art. Duchamp borrowed the absurd word merdre from French author and playwright Alfred Jarry, whose main character in Ubu Roi (1896) utters it in his first appearance on stage. Though spelled and pronounced slightly differently than merde, the word unequivocally means the same thing: “shit.” For more on Manzoni’s protoconceptual practice, see Spector, “Piero Manzoni et l’Amérique: Une cécité temporaire,” in Piero Manzoni (Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori Arte, 1991), pp. 39–46.

84 Cattelan’s gesture recalls Duchamp’s career-long play with the relationship between art and money. In 1919, he created an elaborately hand-drawn fake check to pay his Parisian dentist, Dr. Daniel Tzanck. It was drawn on “The Teeth’s Loan & Trust Company Consolidated, 2 Wall Street, New York” for the amount of $115. Duchamp later bought it back for far more than the stated value. Cattelan’s one-dollar check was sold for $15,000 to benefit the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2004.

85 “Nancy Spector in Conversation with Maurizio Cattelan,” pp. 19–22.

86 Ibid., p. 22.

87 For details on this situation see Apollinaire Scherr, “Art/Architecture: A Fallen Pope Provokes a Sensation in Poland,” New York Times, May 13, 2001,

88 For a detailed and erudite analysis of idolatry and iconoclasm from a cultural and art-historical perspective, see David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 378–428.

89 The word effigy is used here quite deliberately to refer to practices in the Middle Ages, when surrogates for criminals or outcast leaders were publicly punished (sometimes posthumously), a “formalized desecration of the absent body.” See Freedberg, The Power of Images, pp. 257–61.

90 “An Interview with Maurizio Cattelan,” by Andrea Bellini.

91 See, for instance, Sugimoto’s two photographs of the wax portrait of Pope John Paul II in Madame Tussaud’s, dated 1994 and 2000.

92 “An Interview with Maurizio Cattelan,” by Andrea Bellini. Cattelan relayed the same story to this author in an interview, but like his denial of having created the first Zorro painting, his disclaimer seems to promote a fictionalized version of agency and intent, which is certainly characteristic of the artist’s public persona.

93 While the Papal States were eradicated in 1870 and the 1929 Lateran Treaty limited Papal national power to the Vatican only, Catholicism remains the state-supported religion of Italy.

94 Of course this ban is largely symbolic at this point, given that the book can be downloaded off the Internet from numerous sites and is available in translation all over the world.

95 See, for instance, Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986). In this deeply contemplative study, Blanchot writes, “The disaster is unknown; it is the unknown name for that in thought itself which dissuades us from thinking of it, leaving us, but its proximity, alone,” p. 5.

96 “Maurizio Cattelan: Face Off,” interview with Massimiliano Gioni, Flash Art (International edition) 34, no. 218 (May–June 2001), p. 117.

97 Quoted in “Cattelan in Hitler Poster Flap,”, September 15, 2010,

98 “Nancy Spector in Conversation with Maurizio Cattelan,” p. 25.

99 Felix the Cat, created by Otto Messmer, became the first animated figure to be broadcast on television in 1928.

100 The fact that this piece was first shown in New York at Marian Goodman Gallery less than a year after the attacks substantiates the argument about its reference to 9/11.

101 In an interview with Adriana Polveroni about artists’ reactions to the terrorist attacks, Cattelan claimed, “What I am trying to do is to resist the temptation to react. You cannot change your work in order to update it to September 11th from one day to the other; otherwise you would become an illustrator. It would be like inventing new words everyday in order to run after current events.” See Polveroni, “Ground Zero: Cai Guo-Qiang and Maurizio Cattelan respond to the 11th September,” Work: Art in Progress, no. 1 (April–June 2002), p. 14.

102 Ibid.

103 Cattelan makes this point in conversation with Calvin Tomkins. See Tomkins, “The Prankster,” New Yorker 80, no. 29 (October 4, 2004), pp. 80–89.

104 Ibid., p. 88.

105 Gioni uses the term “spectres of history” in his analysis of Cattelan’s then-trilogy of iconic figures: the pope, Hitler, and the cops. Now had yet to be completed. See Gioni, “Maurizio Cattelan—Rebel with a Pose,” p. 182.