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Hung Out To Dry

Words:

Edd Norval
December 29, 2020

Maurizio Cattelan likes people talking about his works. That’s why he created a sculpture of the Pope being struck by a meteorite. His creations range from thought-provoking to attention-seeking, this clear distinction always polarizing critics and audiences whenever the next one crops up. However, one of his most fascinating works came in the form of a retrospective exhibition - challenging everything we’d previously known and expected about how art should be shown.

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With the demand for his work comes a price. Cattelan’s various art, collected in the exhibition called All, showcased millions of dollars worth of art at the iconic Guggenheim, whose hallows halls are only filled up by the art world’s creme.


Expensive art is usually securely stored and then displayed in a minimalist manner, the industry standard for curation now. It can be very boring and not at all to Cattelan’s usual taste. So, for his retrospective, he decided on something different.


Suspended from the glass ceiling of the museum, the New York Times described it as “one of the strangest, most audacious exhibitions in its half-century history, suspending several thousand pounds’—and many tens of millions of dollars—worth of high-end, internationally collected art from cables attached to a heavy-duty aluminium truss installed almost 90 feet in the air under the museum’s glass dome.”


In what appeared a bit of a tangled mess were some of the artist’s most famous works, democratised in the way they haplessly hung down, with no particular piece given any precedence, rather everything suspended side-by-side, equals to whatever was hanging next door. It’s hard to see who the joke is on in Cattelan’s pieces, if its the subject itself, his audience or the art world. Here, it seemed like it was everyone except him.

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Private owners now saw their purchases suspended, critics weren’t able to make sense of it and the audience was barely better of. Strangely though, it made more sense than most of what the Italian had previously done. In All, Cattelan provoked a genuinely interesting debate, poking holes in the rigid and self-serious nature of the art world in a manner that made it as absurd to outsiders as insiders. 


Always eager to highlight the contradictions of contemporary society, the artist had highlighted those same contradictions at the heart of the industry he had worked inside of for so long. Whilst his contribution to the art world can never be understood by traditional terms, neither can this show, the summation (up until that point, at least) of what he thinks of art and his own works. 


The Italian’s art has always been tricky to define, but fairly clear to understand. It’s almost as if he hates the art world, whilst loving the freedom provided by creating art. As such, this exhibition must be viewed in line with some of his most thought-provoking works - like renting out his slot at the Venice Bienalle to an advertising agency - as a big finger up to the critics, museums and audience who should know better.

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