Maurizio Cattelan is an artist who makes objects.
For his late 2011-early 2012 retrospective show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, he had objects from every phase of his career hung in the central rotunda, almost all the art he had ever made, hung all up and down the central rotunda on cables, making them, as a group, a great big temporary artwork.
Cattelan grew up fairly poor in Italy, trained to be an electrician. He had seen art in his life, because he lives in Italy. But he hadn't seen contemporary art.
He happened to see in a gallery a recent work in which the artist painted a self-portrait on a mirror. That was a huge revelation of possibilities to Cattelan. The gallery owner helped Cattelan and art by loaning him a series of books on art now.
Cattelan's art is like some of the Roman art around Italy in that it often is objects that are like human figures. It is like the medieval and Renaissance art that is around Italy in that the human figures, and other objects, are in full color and realistic.
So here's a kid, pretty young, sitting at a school desk, that looks to be an actual, much-used school desk. The kid is wearing actual clothes, white, red and black running shoes, blue jeans, a grey hoodie with the hood up. The desk is facing a wall; the kid is looking straight at the wall. The piece is called "Charley Don't Surf. "
The kid's hands are laid palm down on the desk and each had has a pencil driven into it--through it?--so if they were real, they hands would be impaled to the desk, and the kid would be in pain. He doesn't look in pain. Looks like a kid staring at a school room wall.
It's appropriate that Cattelan was trained as a technician, because his work is technically very good. The kind of high precision and high gloss feeling his human figures have is often associated, in our shared human space, with perkiness and upbeatness, and a feeling that you feel good, so now is the time to buy something.
Cattelan's skill often is used to say something unnerving. The skill and the familiarity of his objects looking just like their models is a set up for getting something to think about that I often don't know how to think about. This is good.
His skill and lightness of touch make being unnerved, sometimes deeply unnerved, easily.
I think of the kid at the schooldesk staring at the wall with hands impaled on the desk, and a reimagine him having free hands and a piece of contempary art in front of him An original art object made by someone that was made in the time that the young person has been alive.
And he goes "Oh, yes" and starts to make what will be a cascade of art object, around the world and then in one museum's rotunda for a while.
That happened without Cattelan being exposed to actual art of his now in school, but what a long shot, and think of all the kids we miss and their amazing productions that don't happen.
Italy has many picture of a guy with a stake driven through each hand. Some by famous artists, some sold a religious stuff stores like Cattelan once worked at before he was an artist.
Enough already with the pain in the hands, acknowledged or unacknowledged. Head and hands are for finding out what head and hands are for, and we need to help each other with that.
--information from the book, the catalog of the show, "All Maurizio Cattelan" with text by Nancy Spector