"If I tell you I have to kill you with my laser view"

An interview with Maurizio Cattelan
 Maurizio Cattelan  Untitled (2018) Courtesy of the artist
 Maurizio Cattelan  Untitled (2018, outside view) Courtesy of the artist
 The Artist is Present, Shanghai 2018, Exhibition View
 The Artist is Present, Shanghai 2018, Exhibition View
 Mika Rottenberg NoNoseKnows (2017) Courtesy of the artist
 Andy Hung Chi-Kin (LEGO Certified Professional) Gucci Sylvie bag made with LEGO bricks Courtesy of Gucci
 "The Artist is Present", Shanghai 2018 Exhibition View showing works by John Armleder (front) & Margaret Lee (back)
 Nevine Mahmoud Miss her (peach)   (2017); Headless (2017) Courtesy of the artist
 Josh Kline Shrugging it off (2017) Courtesy of Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London. Copyright the Artist Sighs of the Times  (2017) Courtesy of Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London. Copyright the Artist Comfort Food ( 2017) Danny and Lisa Goldberg - Sydney, Australia
 The Artist is Present, Shanghai 2018, Exhibition View
 Wim Delvoye  Cloaca N° 5  (2006) Collection and courtesy of the artist; courtesy of Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, New York, Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai
 Ragnar Kjartansson My great, great, grandmother’s song (for China)  (Performance, 2018)
 Superflex Power Toilets/Council of the European Union  (2018) Power Toilets / Council of the European Union is designed in close collaboration with NEZU AYMO architects; Courtesy of the artist
 Jamian Juliano-Villani The Entertainer  (2018) Courtesy of the artist and JTT, New York
 XU ZHEN® Eternity – Northern Qi golden and painted Buddha, Tang Dynasty torso of standing Buddha from Quyang city, Northern Qi painted Bodhisattva, Tang Dynasty seated Buddha from Tianlongshan, Northern Qi painted Buddha, Tang Dynasty torso of a seated Buddha from Tianlonshan grotto No. 4, Parthenon East pediment (2013-2014) Courtesy of the artist and MadeIn Company
 Oscar Tuazon White Walls, 2018 © Oscar Tuazon; Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, Chantal Crousel, Paris and Eva Presenhuber, Zürich
 The Artist is Present, Shanghai 2018, Exhibition View
 The Artist is Present, Shanghai 2018, Exhibition View
 "The Artist is Present", Shanghai 2018, Exhibition View showing works by Jose Dávila, Lawrence Weiner, Reena Spauling (left to right)
 Brian Belott Copy from the Rhoda Kellogg International Children’s Art Collection (2018) Courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/Rome John Ahearn (with Rigoberto Torres) Irene and Johnnie ( 2000/2008); Big Chief ( 2005); Miguel  (1999) Courtesy of the artist and Alexander and Bonin, New York

Not just the artist but half of the global art world was present for the opening of Maurizio Cattelan’s and Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele’s exhibition „The Artist is Present“ at Yuz Museum, Shanghai. In an interview with Rita Vitorelli, Cattelan talks about self-expression, his kinship with Marina Abramović, and becoming god.

 

Rita Vitorelli: The first work of yours I saw, and it’s still one of my favorites, was Dynamo Secession at the Vienna Secession in 1997. Two gallery attendants were pedalling on standing bicycles in the basement, and the light in several rooms became dimmer or brighter depending on how much work they put into it. According to the description on the Perrotin website, “the attendants were thus transformed into the artist's alter ego, capable of producing nothing but a feeble light in the world.” Do you still think that you as an artist are producing nothing but a feeble light in the world?

Maurizio Cattelan: I believe that most of the time there’s a difference between what an artist wishes for his or her work in the future, and what an artist thinks while creating it. This brings an artist to works that could be great, but it is not enough to make them durable. When the two thoughts coincide in a unique will, then you get a true masterpiece, full of light and long-lasting.

Are all of your works self-portraits? If so, that would make you a more traditional artist than people usually assume. It’d mean you’re an artist whose works are about self-expression, or expression in general, rather than one who works primarily with concepts and ideas.

Probably all artworks by all artists are self-portraits in a way. It’s all about researching and defining ourselves; in the end it’s about understanding ourselves. I’m not sure if what comes out could be called self-expression, but I try to grow up a little bit in each and every one of my works. They’re like “psycho-the-rapist” sessions, with less trauma involved. But this is about the reasons for making art, it’s not art itself. If my self-expression, as you call it, is important for other people, for people who don’t know and care about me as a person, it’s only at that moment that my work becomes art.

 

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Maybe you aren’t making fun of the art world at all, and the prankster image is a red herring?

Everything you read about me can be considered false, or not, depending on what you want to believe. I really think that it’s not so interesting who the artist is. To me, my works are the most sincere and tragic things I have done in life. I wish I could see what happens when I’m gone, when my works have a chance of living on without me around. Once all the rumours about my person go quiet, I’m confident that silence will allow people to go deeper into aspects of the works that have rarely been analyzed until now. Art is not about artists, it’s about leaving traces for a better understanding of our time in the future.

What is your favorite fairy tale?

My preference is for the ones that have a moral that is, in fact, immoral.

You are constantly destroying and building up the image of the artist. Why are so interested in the identity of the artist figure?

The artist has been historically a fool, a wise person, a personality of the court, an intellectual, a bohemian, an outsider, an influencer, and so on. It has to do with a wider perspective on identity. In our era you can be whoever you want to be as long as people know you and recognize you for what you appear to be, so probably I want to appear in a way that after a minute allows me to run away from myself and all the others.

 

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You once said, “What interests me is some images’ inner power to stick in your mind permanently. This impact is inextricably linked to influence – the more impact you can create, the more influence you have. I’m fascinated by the ability to make things go viral: it feels like the closest we could get to having a human superpower.” Why do you want to have so much influence on people’s minds? A lot of artists just want recognition.

I think that the two things are closely tied together: today there is no recognition without influence, without going viral. Then it has to do with the power of images: visual studies scholars say that after 9/11 the way images affect our lives changed, and I agree. Today an image can make people change their minds and vote for one person instead of another. As a matter of fact, this is not news. I didn’t invent anything. Images are as strong as faith can be.

 

To me, my works are the most sincere and tragic things I have done in life

 

What are you going to do with your superpower?

If I tell you then I have to kill you with my laser view. I can only say that it has to do with the idea of creation, but I don’t want to spoil it. Just be sure you stay away from apples!

Thinking of the Secession work again … maybe it is about the longing for enlightenment?

As is often the case, what motivates you to do something for the first time is convenience, and that was true for me, too. A self-portrait, for example, is something really straightforward, but at the same time, it can also conceal an unconscious confession about your inner self. I believe my art has always been more about obsessive introspection, which you might call a longing for enlightenment if you woke up on a very spiritual plane; this is valid for all artists in the history of art.

 

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For “The Artist Is Present” in Shanghai you appropriated the advertising campaign of Marina Abramović’s 2010 show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. But instead of looking portentous like her, you are sitting in a train in a hoodie, looking tired and exhausted. Do you feel an artistic kinship with Abramović?

I tried hard to look as intense as her, but I looked like an idiot! I spent all my life wishing to escape, while she made an effort to stay, to be there. It’s admirable but is definitely not my cup of tea. I’m the one who has just left the building.

 

Simply put, any experience that touches you is a good one

 

She recently said “for me, the public is increasingly the work of art.” Is that also true for you?

Someone wiser than me once said that art is not about itself but about the attention we bring to it. Every kind of art engages the observer; even the great frescos of the Middle Ages required the active involvement of the audience, in a sense. The point is not about being outsider or insider; it is that a work of art needs to be viewed in order to exist, like the famous tree in the wood that no one hears falling. No work of art exists until or unless it is observed: the artist is making something exist by observing it, and so do the others, in their own ways. Simply put, any experience that touches you is a good one.

 

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Let’s talk about [Gucci creative director] Alessandro Michele, with whom you collaborated on the show, who has been described as a “master of eternity”, and whose designs Ella Plevin calls “a post-truth uniform for life lived under anything-goes neoliberal hyperreality”. What fascinates you about him?

What you say may be true, but he remains a very straightforward and cultured person once you get talking to him.

Could you talk about some works in the show? I’d be interested in Yuri Arancari, Nina Beier, and Superflex, as well as the two works of yours: the replica of the Sistine Chapel and the photo wall showing the image of the Hollywood sign you put on a Sicilian garbage dump as your contribution to the Venice Biennale in 2001.

The Hollywood signage is as much part of the exhibition design as the colored walls are, and it doesn’t actually portray the sign I placed in Palermo near the municipal dump in 2001. I had been invited to participate in the 49th Venice Biennale, and on the day of the opening around 150 people (mainly collectors, critics and curators) were invited to take a plane from Venice to Palermo for a special cocktail in front of the installation and then fly back to Venice.

The painted replica of the Sistine Chapel (Untitled, 2018) is the only true artwork I sign as an artist in the show. I’ve dreamt for a long time of remaking Michelangelo’s masterpiece accessible as an immersive experience: like the original, but on a smaller, human scale. Otherwise you can only see it in art-history textbooks, or by going to Rome and queuing for hours to catch a glimpse of it for a couple of seconds.

In one account of Michelangelo’s departure from Rome, the Pope became angry with him because he would not let him see any of the work he was doing on the Sistine Chapel. Apparently, the Pope then bribed Michelangelo’s apprentices to allow him to enter and see the unfinished masterpiece. Since that time, the Sistine Chapel has been visited by millions of people, and it has been reproduced endlessly through different mechanical techniques: a masterpiece made “portable”. Is it still a masterpiece if it travels to us instead of us making a pilgrimage to it? Through this work, I wanted to question whether the copy will save us from a museum-like world where artworks become objects to which the observer has no longer a vital relationship, objects that are in the process of dying. If humanity’s maximum aspiration is to become God, the maximum aspiration of the copy is to become the original. The truth is that, between these walls, even the Pope can be closer to God.

And one last question: what did you learn from the collaboration with one of the biggest fashion labels in the world?

I always found it confusing how glitter is the trait d’union between strip clubs and preschools, and now I know that fashion is the answer.

 

“MAURIZIO CATTELAN – THE ARTIST IS PRESENT”
Yuz Museum – West Bund Shanghai
11 October – 16 December, 2018

With John Ahearn (with Rigoberto Torres), John Armleder, Nina Beier, Brian Belott, Anne Collier, Jose Dávila, Wim Delvoye, Eric Doeringer, Sayre Gomez, Andy Hung Chi-Kin, Matt Johnson, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Kapwani Kiwanga, Ragnar Kjartansson, Josh Kline, Louise Lawler, Margaret Lee, Hannah Levy, Lu Pingyuan, Ma Jun, Nevine Mahmoud, Aleksandra Mir, Pentti Monkkonen, Philippe Parreno, Jon Rafman, Mika Rottenberg, Reena Spaulings, Sturtevant, Superflex, Oscar Tuazon, Kaari Upson, Gillian Wearing, Lawrence Weiner, Christopher Williams, XU ZHEN®, Yan Pei-Ming, Damon Zucconi

 

RITA VITORELLI is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Spike.

 

 

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