The Elephant in the Room: Maurizio Cattelan Is Retiring … Sort Of

Role of <em>Toilet Paper</em> will not end

Preaching to the choir doesn’t interest him. “I’m not interested in people who already like my work,” he said. “I’m interested in—how do you say?—the undecided.”

But … retirement. Had art become just another day job?

He cocked an eyebrow. “I see. You are trying to say, ‘Is this guy faking it or not? What is he really doing after?’ I’m not saying I’m turning the switch off. Without my saying I’m retiring, tomorrow would be the same for you and the same for me. It would be difficult to move to another level, or to do something completely different.”


“Now he’s doing this, now he’s painting. Or, now he will be the assistant of Larry Gagosian.”

That’s a good one, we said.

“I’m not joking,” he persisted. “We’ve had a gallery, a magazine, a biennial. I like to see the different sides. Why not?”

We eyed him. Lose the high tops, suit him up, slick back his hair, and it wouldn’t be difficult to picture him as one of Mr. Gagosian’s suave deputies, buying and selling with well-oiled panache his own artworks and those of his peers. His sculpture depicting two life-size, upside-down policemen, last shown in New York at his gallery, Marian Goodman, the year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, popped up at the Gagosian booth at Art Basel in June. Who better to trade in such things than their creator?


What is being risked, in “All,” is failure—but that’s nothing new. What is also being risked, or implied, is total destruction: a fall, the tumbling from a great height of every artwork Mr. Cattelan has ever made, in a dominoslike catastrophe set off by the snapping, say, of one faulty wire.

One of them would be a taxidermied squirrel slumped over a miniature table, having shot itself with a miniature gun. Mr. Cattelan made it in the mid-’90s.

“New York has been responsible for all my projects,” he said. “I remember the beginning of producing a show as a painful and long process. I was walking around town day after day thinking, what can we do for this show? I was probably by the park and a squirrel ran past and I said, ‘Yes, you will be helping me.’”

Then came the gun, the table.

“I projected a domestic situation onto it, the family kitchen.” Mr. Cattelan paused. “I don’t believe myself to be such a creative person, so I’m just using material that’s always been there and is easy to pick up, family history, something that probably everybody can relate to.”

This article is a construct, a way for you to relate to Maurizio Cattelan. If you had the recording device, and you listened closely during the pause that is referred to above, you would hear, over the restaurant’s sound system, Sinatra singing Gershwin: “I never had the least notion that I could fall with such emotion.”

Here is how the tape ends:

“I’ll turn this off.”

“Now it’s too late.”