On the occasion of his Guggenheim retrospective, first-time director Maura Axelrod walks us through Maurizio Catellan’s tumultuous career in a documentary that is pitch-perfect in its embracing of his art’s irreverent tone. The result is a delightfully fun and educational watch for admirers of Catellan’s work, as well as for viewers who have never heard of him. (GPG: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
There was a Vogue profile done on Catellan in the 80’s entitled “The Lying Game.” This is an apt title for an artist who takes delight in playing cheeky pranks on his audience, from creating fraudulent copies of a top art magazine with his own artwork on the cover, to falsely reporting a non-existent work of art as stolen to the police and then exhibiting the police report in a gallery showing. A series of playful animations in the first part of the film depicts a young Cattelan getting started in the art world with these and other pieces; these caveats are extremely helpful for viewers less knowledgable about conceptual art!
Once he had entered the art world, Catellan had a lot to say about the culture he found—the first time he was invited to participate in the Venice Biennale, he didn’t make a piece, but rather rented out his space to a billboard company, who put up a perfume ad. Later, he organized his own “Caribbean Biennale,” which patrons found had no art on exhibition at all, except for a bunch of artists getting very drunk. These pieces, by offering no art to occupy the viewer’s attention, bring the excesses of the art world into focus—the extravagant galleries, the critics, and of course, the auctions where Cattelan's pieces pull millions of dollars.
Catellan is known for the controversies his work provokes—it has happened not once but several times that a viewer of his art has found a piece so offensive that they take it upon themselves to vandalize it to remove the transgression from public view. His most famous piece, a statue of the pope being hit by a meteorite, was destroyed when a visitor took the meteorite off the pope and tried to stand him up. When a piece in which he hung three statues of children from a tree was shown in a park in Italy, a local ended up cutting the children down, injuring himself in the process. Catellan finds these acts of vandalism funny, as it proves he is testing the limits of what an audience will tolerate being shown.
All in all, a fascinating lesson on one of conceptual art's most important figures!
© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (4/18/17) FF2 Media
Top photo: A statue of a middle finger displayed in front of a stock exchange in Italy.
Middle photo: An assortment of Cattelan's pieces being prepared for his Guggenheim retrospective.
Bottom photo: Cattelan making one of his pieces.
Photo credit: Bow and Arrow Entertainment.
Q: Does Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back pass the Bechdel test?
Since there are no dialogues, there is no opportunity for any of the women in the film to speak to each other. Even if they did, they would talk only about a man -- Maurizio Cattelan. However, I was refreshed to see a selection of women art critics and collectors being interviewed alongside the more traditional old white men.