Maurizio Cattelan, Whitechapel Gallery, London
Tuesday 25 September 2012
Is this man an installation artist, we ask ourselves as we stare at a pointed finger suspended in the air above a giant image of the circular wrapper of a famous Italian cheese which has been re-worked as a woollen carpet?
Would that be the appropriate pigeonhole? Frankly, what the hell. The truth is that above (or below) all things else, Maurizio Cattelan is an Italian prankster. We like him for that. Too little art genuinely amuses. Too little art laughs at the idea of the art object. Why? Because there is always so much filthy moolah at stake?
There are not many pieces by Cattelan in Room Seven – in fact, and quite neatly, there are seven, and they are all on loan from a collector with an extremely plangent name: Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. The room seems to pivot about a portrait of Catellan himself, which hangs suspended in a far corner, dressed in a baggy felt suit.
Hangs suspended? Artists do not usually show themselves at two-thirds scale (Cattelan takes such delight at playing with scale in this mini-show), hanging fully dressed from a coat hangar, shoeless, sockless, preposterously, helplessly hang-dog. He is hanging by the scruff of the neck, feet not quite touching the ground.
This piece says as much as we need to know about his attitude towards the artist and his role in society. Here is what he seems to believe. First of all, the artist is a risibly shrunken version of mankind who deserves to be mocked in this way for taking himself so seriously. Secondly, he lives in the mistaken belief that he can somehow make his mark upon the world by posing as (for example) a mage or a shaman of some kind.
This is evidently the purpose of the tell-tale felt suit. Cattelan has decided to trick himself out as if he were Joseph Beuys striding about the lecture room, wowing and cowing his young students. Alas, his sad, vulnerable, naked feet will never touch the ground. He is doomed never quite to engage with the raging toughness of reality. He is condemned to hang suspended like this forever, a kind of mock-exhibit of sorts which, if we have an ounce of compassion, we could perhaps lift up and off that coat hangar – easy does it now, we wouldn't want to harm the poor thing - take home, and even position, slumped helplessly over, in a chair beside the table.
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