Maurizio Cattelan (B. 1960)
DEATH IN AMERICA: Selections from the Zadig & Voltaire Collection
Maurizio Cattelan (B. 1960)


Maurizio Cattelan (B. 1960)
resin, paint, human hair, clothing, packing tissue, wood and screws
92 3/8 x 54 3/8 x 20 7/8 in. (234.6 x 138.1 x 53 cm.)
Executed in 2007. This work is number two from an edition of three plus two artist's proofs.
Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris
Private collection, New York
Venus Over Manhattan, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
M. Cattelan, B. Curiger, C. Schelbert and X. Li, Die/ Die more/ Die Better/ Die Again, Paris, 2008, pp. 17, 19, 23, 37 and PS I-II (illustrated in watercolor).
A.-K. Günzel, "Maurizio Cattelan, Ecclesia und Synagoge," Kunstforum International, no. 192, July-August 2008, p. 317 (installation view of another example illustrated in color).
Kunsthaus Bregenz, Maurizio Cattelan, February-March 2008 (another example exhibited).
Pulheim-Stommeln, Synagoge Stommeln, Maurizio Cattelan, June-August 2008 (another example exhibited).
Houston, The Menil Collection, Maurizio Cattelan, February-August 2010, p. 114-115 (another example exhibited and installation view illustrated in color).
Kiev, PinchukArtCentre, Sexuality and Transcendence, April-September 2010 (another example exhibited).
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Maurizio Cattelan, September-October 2010 (another example exhibited).
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Maurizio Cattelan: All, November 2011-January 2012, pp. 66-67, 69, 155, 238 and 250, no. 102, fig. 18 (another example exhibited and installation view illustrated in color).
Kunsthaus Zürich, Riotous Baroque: From Cattelan to Zurbarán – Tributes to Precarious Vitality, June-September 2012, pp. 41 and 165 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Warsaw, Center for Contemporary Art, Maurizio Cattelan: Amen, November 2012-February 2013, p. 30 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
New York, Venus Over Manhattan, Fétiche, February-April 2016.
Monnaie de Paris, Maurizio Cattelan: Not Afraid of Love, October 2016-January 2017, pp. 12-13 (another example exhibited; studio view illustrated in watercolor).
Sale room notice
Please note that the estimate for this lot is printed incorrectly in the catalogue. The correct estimate for Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled is $1,000,000-1,500,000.

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

“I actually think that reality is far more provocative than my art … I just take it; I’m always borrowing pieces—crumbs really—of everyday reality. If you think my work is provocative, it means that reality is extremely provocative, and we just don’t react to it.” Maurizio Cattelan

Untitled is a startling life-size sculpture that ranks among Maurizio Cattelan’s most powerful and iconic creations. A girl in a nightshirt hangs with her back to us and her face hidden, arms outstretched as if crucified. She is packed in an open crate: her limbs and torso are supported by padded plywood restraints, and the box is lined with tissue paper. The work has its genesis in a 1977-1978 self-portrait by Francesca Woodman, which captures the young photographer hanging from a doorway in Rome. Cattelan recreated this enigmatic image as an uncannily realistic sculpture, first shown at Austria’s Kunsthaus Bregenz in 2008. Prior to installation he happened to see the figure secured face-down in its shipping crate, and the work’s current iteration was born. In her packaging the girl seems at once protected and imprisoned, both tortured martyr and enshrined art object. The crate becomes a casket; the wooden pegs that protrude from her palms to fix her to her doorframe now look like the nails of a crucifixion. As is characteristic of Cattelan’s best work, this tableau is more than mere macabre spectacle, and goes beyond the institutional critique so often ascribed to him as the art world’s arch jester or Shakespearean fool. With a sharp eye for the unforgettable image, Cattelan poses a witty and intelligent inquest into mechanisms of power, care and context in the reception of art, and reveals the anxieties that lie behind his outwardly aloof and provocative practice.

Francesca Woodman took her own life in 1981, at the age of 22. Suicide is a subject that has long informed Cattelan’s work: one of his most infamous works is Bidibidobidiboo (1996), a taxidermied squirrel slumped over a table, gun dropped to the floor, in a miniature kitchen modelled on that of Cattelan’s childhood home. The following year he published …Or Not to Be, an anthology of real and fictional suicide notes. In what remains perhaps his most controversial installation, Untitled (2004), saw three realistic life-size children hung from nooses tied to an oak tree in a busy piazza in Milan. Such works seem to have personal resonance for the artist, who traffics in themes of doubt, failure, incompletion and absurdity, as well as exposing the censorious hypocrisy of those who decry violence represented in art while blithely ignoring the violence of everyday life. Further than this, however, Cattelan’s interest in Woodman and her photographs arguably centers on the complexities of her legacy.

Woodman has reached wide posthumous acclaim, but her parents aver that interpretations of her photographs are overshadowed and limited by undue focus on her suicide. “She had a good time,” says her mother. “Her life wasn’t a series of miseries. She was fun to be with. It’s a basic fallacy that her death is what she was all about, and people read that into the photographs. They psychoanalyze them. Young people in particular feel she’s talking about them, somehow. They see the photographs as very personal. But that’s not the way I approach them. They’re often funny” (B. Woodman, quoted in R. Cooke, “Searching for the real Francesca Woodman,” The Guardian, August 31, 2014). Indeed, her Christ-like pose in the image Cattelan worked from can be seen as playful, rather than as an inevitable foreshadowing of early death. In a game of self-revelation and self-effacement, Catalan ensures that Woodman wryly hides her face from view even as she makes herself a messianic subject, aloft and illuminated in her domestic setting. Three decades later, Cattelan’s crated girl is no longer so free, and enacts the trappings of critical appreciation and the helplessness of the image. Woodman’s work, perhaps as much as his own, is shackled by the gaze of received interpretation, entirely at the mercy of viewers who follow restricted ways of seeing and understanding. Untitled delivers a decisive shock to jar us out of such complacency, presenting a haunting vision of vulnerability and violence.

“What interests me is some image’s inner power to stick in your mind permanently,” Cattelan has said. “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” (M. Cattelan, quoted in T. Wychonawok, “We met Maurizio Cattelan,” Numéro 05, December 2016). This captivation with the inherent force of an image is key to Cattelan’s practice. From his suspended horses and inverted police officers to La Nona Ora (1999), a sculpture of a meteor-struck Pope John Paul II which was exhibited alongside the present work in Milan’s Palazzo Reale in 2010, his works have become immediately recognisable. They draw instant attention through bold visual strategies not dissimilar to those of subversive ad campaigns—Cattelan is an admirer of Oliviero Toscani’s work for Benetton in the nineties—or the viral pranks so prevalent in today’s post-Internet culture. La Nona Ora has been criticised as specifically anti-Catholic, and was vandalized when shown in Poland in 2001. Cattelan simply claims, however, that “What I’m interested in are images. I’m sure you can tell. Who in his right mind would deliberately represent the pope struck by a meteorite in order to deliver a political message about the church?” (M. Cattelan, quoted in M. Robecchi, “Maurizio Cattelan,” Interview, 8 June 2009). Similarly, the pseudo-crucifixion of Untitled need not be seen as a blasphemous critique of organised religion, even as it engages with the polychrome sculptural tradition of Cattelan’s own Catholic background. When he affixed the work to the exterior wall of a church in Stommeln, Germany in 2008, Cattelan was merely taking advantage of a site that would heighten the work’s arresting visual impact, ensuring that it would be seen, discussed and debated.

Dismissive as Cattelan may be of the meanings that are attached to his images, the frequent appearance of himself in his work—as an eerie childlike miniature, a cartoonish waxwork replica or even a squirrel surrogate—points to a broad concern with his art’s reception, and with his own place in an art world which he views with healthy suspicion. While Untitled is about the staying power of an image and how responses to it might shift and mutate over time, it can also be read as a reflection on the deep-seated personal feelings of inadequacy and anti-climax that run through Cattelan’s practice. If an oeuvre as enviably “pure” as Woodman’s, unsullied by years of active art-world participation, can become so warped and consumed, what hope does he have? Cattelan deals directly with this anxiety, affirming the bravery of Woodman’s placing of herself at the centre of the picture by staging the very violence and constriction that such exposure entails. Seizing the “found object” of his crated sculpture, Cattelan turns the apparatus of art presentation in on itself, conjuring the spiritual from the mundane to create an icon of iconoclasm. This complex reflexive image brings together bathos and reverence, morbidity and humour, playfulness and deep sincerity. Through his transcendent act of appropriation and refashioning Cattelan opens our eyes—and paradoxically, the crucified girl is freed.

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