Comic and conceptual, Maurizio Cattelan, the irreverent bad boy of contemporary art, uses humor as his vehicle to dissect structure and authority both inside and outside of the art world. The third layer of the artist's infamous trilogy, Frank and Jamie joins La nona ora, the 1999 installation where a waxwork of Pope John Paul II has been struck by a meteorite, and Him, a child-sized model of Hitler praying, in examining the nature of power. Within this trilogy, symbols or personifications of authority are dethroned, destabilized and disrupted. Placed within this context, Frank and Jamie appears to form an incongruous dimension when compared to Pope John Paul II and Hitler, who are iconic characters in their own right, superficially standing for good and evil. However, whereas Frank and Jamie are not famous, their uniform certainly is.
This act of subversion is so obvious as to appear comic-- Cattelan has all too literally turned the policemen, and therefore societal structures of authority, on their heads. He has reduced these policemen to strange, absurd and superfluous objects that bound to the periphery of the room. He begs us not to take them seriously, a request that is made so much easier by the slightly vacant yet wholly approachable and human smile on Frank's face. In fact, the two officers hail from the defunct--since 1995--New York City Housing Authority Police Department, becoming the dummy substitutes for security guards. Presented standing on their heads, these figures of authority become ineffective, while the gravitas and power usually linked with their uniforms and badges has been irredeemably punctured. "They're like broomsticks," the artist has stated, pointing to the piece's absurd positioning (M. Cattelan, quoted in C. Vogel, "Don't Get Angry. He's Kidding. Seriously.", New York Times, 13 May 2002, p. E3).
The fact that Frank and Jamie occupy the wall space that is intended for paintings, implies that Cattelan has also not passed up an opportunity to dethrone an authority that is less terrestrial than the police--that of art itself. For Cattelan, the assumptions of what is and what is not art, of what is allowable and what is not, of what is good taste and what is bad, are strict rules that were made to be flagrantly disobeyed. Andy Warhol once claimed that rather than buying expensive pictures, people should just put money on their walls. Cattelan takes this a step further by implying that all art is not capitalism, but instead a form of totalitarianism. Be it in the fashions or the interpretations of art in the modern world, there are stringent guidelines that are all too often obeyed, and it is this blind obeisance that Cattelan has spotlighted in Frank and Jamie.
When Frank and Jamie was executed in 2002, the uniform of the New York policeman had gained new associations, following the surge in patriotism and sympathy that came in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11th the previous year. Like a moth to a candle, Cattelan, then a resident of New York, was clearly drawn to the subject in part by the new inviolable status that the uniform had for some people. While the artist stated he was merely trying "to do iconic cops, like in the movies," he admitted, "It's the right moment because it's the wrong moment. I didn't want to make a comment about New York City's police or Sept. 11th or Amadou Diallo" (Cattelan, quoted in Ibid., p. E3). This was a reference to the 1999 killing of a West African at the hands of the police in which four officers fired a total of forty-one shots at the unarmed immigrant, sparking a controversial inquiry and mass allegations of police brutality. It is this multiplicity in the associations that the figures of the policemen prompt in the minds of their viewers that lend the work its strength.
In her text for Cattelan's defining 2011 retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York--a show that Cattelan described as his last work of art--Nancy Spector further examined the relationship between Frank and Jamie and the tragic events of September 11th, stating: "His treatment of the New York City police stems not from a naïve anti-establishment impulse but rather an empathetic response to these public servants' inevitable fallibility, which is far more profound than easy objects of ridicule like police corruption. Frank and Jamie is a monument to a failure, one that involves a more far-reaching breakdown of the social order. Morphologically, the side-by-side figures comprising the sculpture--which, because upside down, are semiabstracted--recall the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The allusion is ever so slight, but it is sufficient to invoke the tragic events of September 11, 2001.What this anti-memorial suggests is the impossibility of the police (and the government, for that matter) to truly protect innocent citizens from cataclysmic events....While Cattelan has denied making work in direct reaction to 9/11, this elegiac sculpture bears its scars. Like his hyper-realistic renderings of the pope and Hitler, Frank and Jamie is a paradox. It resembles a freeze-frame from a slapstick routine, but it is really an open-ended invitation from the artist to contemplate a morally complex situation. He has claimed that art must "talk about all and nothing" if it expects to "survive more than a season," so he brokers metaphor and allusion. There are no answers in Cattelan's art, only scenarios to be deciphered and doubts to be pondered" (N. Spector, Maurizio Cattelan: All, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2011, p. 101).