Maurizio Cattelan was born in Padua, Italy, in 1960. Cattelan, who has no formal training and considers himself an “art worker” rather than an artist, has often been characterized as the court jester of the art world. This label speaks not only to his taste for irreverence and the absurd, but also his profound interrogation of socially ingrained norms and hierarchies, subjects historically only available to the court fool.
Early in his career, Cattelan unleashed his mockery on figures in the art world. For Errotin, le vrai Lapin (1995) Cattelan convinced gallerist and notorious womanizer Emmanuel Lapin to wear a giant pink rabbit costume shaped like a phallus to Cattelan’s gallery opening. In 1998 a volunteer paraded around SITE Santa Fe donning an oversized papier-mâché caricatural Georgia O’Keefe costume; the same year, a similarly comical Pablo Picasso guise welcomed visitors to The Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the late 1990s, Cattelan began to create hyper-realistic figural sculptures, and in these pieces he regularly skewered another art world personality; works such as Mini-me (1999), La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi(2000), and We (2010) employed the artist’s own image—with clear undertones of self-mockery and self-effacement.
Cattelan’s work often unites humor and the macabre. In his installations of taxidermy animals, creatures were configured in absurdist narratives, like a post-suicide squirrel in Bidibidobidiboo (1996), as well as disarmingly familiar scenarios, like dogs curled up on the floor or perched on their haunches, seemingly still alive. Daddy Daddy (2008) creates a similarly unsettling scene; the piece depicts the Walt Disney character Pinocchio floating facedown in a pool. Cattelan’s sardonic wit is also apparent in L.O.V.E. (2010), a 15-foot-tall Carrera marble sculpture of a hand with all of its digits removed except the middle finger.
Cattelan has also openly engaged historical narratives and public figures. Indeed, nobody is exempt from the artist’s critique. In La Nona Ora (1999), a wax replica of Pope John Paul II is seen struck down by a meteor and pinned to a red carpet. In Him (2001), a small simulation of Adolph Hitler kneels on the floor in prayer. Ave Maria (2007) reveals a line of saluting arms extending from the wall, suggesting an association between Italy’s Fascist past and Catholicism. In the more reverent, mournful piece All (2007), a series of marble sculptures that uncannily resemble dead bodies covered in sheets line the gallery floor.
Solo exhibitions of Cattelan’s work have been organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1998); Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2000); Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2001); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2002–03); P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1, New York (2002); Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (2003); Musée du Louvre, Paris (2004); Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2008); The Menil Collection, Houston (2010); and Fondation Beyeler, Basel (2013). His work has also been featured in the Venice Bienniale (1993, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2003, and 2011), L’hiver de l’amour at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris (1994), SITE Santa Fe (1997), Manifesta 2 (1998), Istanbul Biennial (1998), Kunsthalle Basel (1999), Whitney Biennial (2004), Traces du Sacré at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (2008), and theanyspacewhatever at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (2008). A retrospective of Cattelan’s work opened in the fall of 2011 at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. Cattelan also founded The Wrong Gallery in 2002, a store window in New York City that allowed for greater freedom in art interventions, which he found lacking in the city’s commercial galleries. Cattelan lives and works in New York and Milan, though he declared himself retired in 2011.