Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960)
Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960)


Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960)
resin, fibreglass, fabric, rope, synthetic hair and three flagpoles
figure: 51½ x 19 5/8 x 21 5/8in. (130 x 50x 55cm.)
each flagpole: 408½ x 7¾ x 7¾in. (900 x 20 x 20cm.)
Executed in 2004, this work is from an edition of three plus one artist's proof
Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004.
F. Manacorda (ed.), Maurizio Cattelan, Milan 2006 (installation view illustrated in colour, p. 12).
Seville, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Monasterio de la Cartuja de Santa María de las Cuevas, I International Biennial of Contemporary Art, La Alegría de mis Sueños, 2004.

Lot Essay

'Actually it was just a way to take a position and say something clear about what we are doing to our future. It was a crucifixion, maybe a ritual sacrifice. It wasn't supposed to bring attention to me but to the world out there' (M. Cattelan quoted in G. Politi et al., 'Killing Me Softly: A Conversation with Maurizio Cattelan', pp. 90-97, Flash Art, July-September 2004, p. 94).

Visitors to the inaugural International Biennial of Contemporary Art of Seville, launched in 2004, were greeted by a striking sight. Hanging from one of the three nine-metre-tall flagpoles outside La Cartuja, the iconic former charterhouse on an island in the River Guadalquivir in Seville, was the effigy of a blond child, looking out with apparent indifference over the hordes of visitors to the art fair. This was Maurizio Cattelan's Untitled, created that year. This work comprised the flagpoles and also the sculpture of the child, visibly identifiable as a youthful vision of Cattelan himself wearing a shirt and slacks. The implied violence of this mock-hanging, all the more shocking to some conservative elements of society in Seville because it featured a child, resulted in international publicity, with the image of this work being shown in newspapers throughout the world, bringing attention both to the artist and the Biennial alike.

Taking an effigy of himself and hanging it, Cattelan was continuing a tradition of self-portraiture that has run as a constant thread throughout much of his career. Looking at the blond boy in Untitled,the facial features remain distinctive, although he has replaced his usually dark hair with this blond image. This is one of several variations on self-portraiture in which Cattelan has transformed his own image and played with his own identity: sometimes, the artist has shown himself as a child, for instance in the tricycle-riding Charlie of 2003, and more recently in two older incarnations on a seeming deathbed in We, from 2010; in his 1999 sculpture Minime, a tiny Cattelan that can be placed on bookshelves was shown looking down with trepidation from what, in his new scale, was a vast elevation. Meanwhile, in his 2000 work La rivoluzione siamo no, he lampooned the legacy of Joseph Beuys by depicting himself as a miniaturised homunculus hanging from a clothes-peg wearing a small example of the German artist's felt suits. In this way, Cattelan hinted at the hamstrung revolution that Beuys had hoped would be such a wave of change. Cattelan has used this device to play with the usual borders of art, and indeed of taste.

By hanging his own effigy in Untitled, Cattelan has added commentary to self-portraiture: in this work, the provocative artist has himself carried out the vilification that he feels he has attracted from much of the public over the years. Attacked again and again, his works have often acted as a lightning rod for conservative taste, as was the case when Untitled was shown in Seville. To some extent, then, Cattelan here humorously presents himself as a martyr to so-called good taste. As Cattelan himself has explained of the furore surrounding an earlier exhibition of hanging effigies in 2004, 'much was said about 'good taste', but taste belongs to ice cream makers. Art, like life, is beyond taste, because it aspires to truth, even when it lies' (M. Cattelan, quoted in G. Politi et al., 'Killing Me Softly: A Conversation with Maurizio Cattelan', pp. 90-97, Flash Art, July-September 2004, p. 95).

This taste was thrown all the more into relief in Seville, still a largely traditional and religious city in Southern Spain, famous for its processions during Holy Week and other such ceremonial events. In a sense, the figure of the young artist on the central flagpole is a deliberate echo of Christian depictions of the crucifixion, with the two other shafts echoing the two other crosses from Golgotha. The hypocrisy of the people complaining about this image was all the more pronounced in a city that features so many realistic sculptures of Christ on the cross, as well as other religious figures enduring their various gruesome martyrdoms.

Cattelan himself said of an earlier Milan incarnation of this work, 'It was a crucifixion, maybe a ritual sacrifice. It wasn't supposed to bring attention to me, but to the world out there' (M. Cattelan, quoted in ibid., p. 94). Cattelan was forcing our attention towards the fact that such imagery can exist in plain sight in so many places. Crucially, this is not just in terms of religious iconography, but also in terms of the media. The news presents us with footage every day of children suffering to which we manage to turn a blind eye; in Untitled, Cattelan is revealing the moral core of his work, demanding that we open our eyes. As he explained, he 'found quite interesting that, for some reason, an image could not be accepted in real life but would be totally welcomed as long as it was reproduced in newspapers or on TV. It's as though in some contexts we like to be defenceless' (ibid., pp. 94-95).

It was in part because of the strong reactions to the image of the hanged youth, however blithely he may have been looking out over the world, that Cattelan appears to have placed him on a nine-metre flagpole in Seville. Earlier during the same year, the effigies of three children, all of them resembling Cattelan as a kid, had been installed in Milan outside the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Piazza XXIV Maggio. Strung up from a tree there, the sculptures caused a huge outcry, and indeed within a day of their installation a local had gone home to fetch a ladder and shears to cut them down. In doing so, he damaged two of the figures; it was the remaining effigy that Cattelan defiantly showed in Seville, hanging on its own, beyond reach and over the fray, rising over the controversy it caused.

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