Feature

Exhibit of the week: Maurizio Cattelan: All

The six-story mobile of Cattelan's work descends from the ceiling of the Guggenheim and is surrounded by the museum's circular walkway.

Solomon R. Guggenheim MuseumNew YorkThrough Jan. 22

Step into the Guggenheim’s Maurizio Cattelan retrospective and you’re stepping into “the eye of an artistic tornado,” said Ariella Budick in the Financial Times. Hung from the museum’s ceiling is a six-story mobile comprising 128 sculptures, photos, and works of taxidermy—the totality of the 51-year-old Italian’s artistic output. The objects—a headless horse, a sculpture of Pope John Paul II being felled by a meteor, a stuffed elephant draped in a Ku Klux Klan sheet—affirm this bold provocateur as “the consummate artist of this decadent moment.” Take the defining piece in the mobile: “a titanic marble hand, with its central finger erect in a gesture of, shall we say, disrespect.” Critics delight in trashing his work as sensationalist kitsch, but I for one “have a soft spot for Cattelan’s unembarrassed pursuit of spectacle.” He certainly achieves it here. This is “a hell of a show.”

That middle finger up there is pointed at you, dear viewer, said Lance Esplund in Bloomberg.com. Rather than display his work sensibly on the walls, Cattelan has chosen to insult us with another of his cynical pranks, this one intended to “negate the importance and honor of the museum retrospective.” While an “impressive feat of engineering,” the mobile is a “conceptual sham.” In context, Cattelan’s work can be poignant. That middle finger, for instance, once faced the Italian stock exchange in Milan. Here, it’s just another piece in a tangled mess. After a time, viewing the mobile from Frank Lloyd Wright’s curving walkways is like watching a “mammoth cylindrical web of junk going down the toilet.” Maybe that’s the joke. It’s just not that funny. Cattelan has promised to quit making art after this show. Sounds like a good idea.

I’ll admit I was disappointed when I first looked up and saw this swirling miasma, said Jerry Saltz in New York. But as I ascended, my dismay quickly transformed into feelings of wonderment and awe. Viewing these works from shifting angles forces you to see them anew many times and to constantly reassess opinions formed just moments before. “The mess becomes a mesh,” a self-contained universe of echoing patterns of thought. It’s even okay that some pieces fall flat because this installation is Cattelan “butchering everything he’s ever done,” creating a “piñata of brilliance and failure in order, maybe, to bring about aesthetic resurrection.” The effect is spellbinding. I have two words for you, Mr. Cattelan: “Don’t quit.”

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