Maurizio Cattelan Hangs in the Guggenheim: a Preview

Years in the making, the Guggenheim’s retrospective of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan has finally arrived.

About 130 of his works are now hanging, immaculately and elegantly, from a circular metal rack at the top of the Frank Lloyd Wright’s rotunda, like sausages, laundry or, to quote the Guggenheim’s rather bravely worded press materials, “a mass execution.” (We counted two of the artist’s sculptures of young boys hanging by their necks.)

Mr. Cattelan, as many have pointed out, is a master of the one liner. His works are designed to fill a room, to be photographed. They are short jokes we can tell each other. “I asked Maurizio to make a portrait of my grandmother,” one can hear a collector telling his house guest. “And shoved a sculpture of her in a refrigerator!” Then they laugh.

That grandmother, Betsy (2002), is strung up near the top of the museum’s ramps, not far from a photograph of the artist’s French dealer, Emmanuel Perrotin, clad in a pink bunny/penis costume, which he wore for the duration of the artist’s 1995 exhibition at his gallery. (Mr. Perrotin, as it happens, was at today’s press preview, sadly not wearing the costume.)

Shown together, Mr. Cattelan’s artworks–which were often perfectly crafted to sate the need of masochistic collectors to feel the bite of an ‘avant-garde’–lose their spark. Walking along the rotunda, spotting the old classics (the broken safe, the kneeling Hitler, the pope felled by a meteor!) feels like reading a book of jokes.

Of course, assuming you know the stories behind the pieces, some are still funny (the lengthy foosball table on which the artist once had two soccer teams compete), while others are not (the pigeons that line many of the installation’s support beams, which have always felt, to us, bizarrely, almost intentionally ham-fisted).

But if the installation often smothers the punch of many of Mr. Cattelan’s individual works, it reveals his remarkable skill as a sculptor, or at least as a commissioner of fabrications. We see a fascinating picture of a 20-year career that has involved the meticulous, careful construction of beautiful objects–no small feat.

There will be more time to think all of this through later. For now, you may take a look at the installation in the slide show above. The exhibition, “All,” opens to the public on Friday, Nov. 4.

Earlier this week, in The New York Observer, culture editor Sarah Douglas interviewed the artist.

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