Maurizio Cattelan is an intriguing figure. His works are at once humorous and cutting, often critiquing the art establishment around him, and in particular his artistic contemporaries and predecessors. This is clear in Joseph Beuys Suit, executed in 2000. Dangling limp and empty from a hanger is a miniature version of the loosely-structured felt suit made famous by Joseph Beuys, which featured in many of his performances. Beuys used felt in many of his works, associating it with healing. By extension, his performances were rituals aimed at using the transformative force of art to help heal a damaged world.
Where Beuys' suits have since then been hung as relics of his activities, which themselves were attempts to explore and exploit the power of art, Cattelan's involvement means that we cannot help but be cynical: this small version is deliberately inert and inactive, a shell. This association is made all the more explicit because of its relationship to another work from the same year, Cattelan's La rivoluzione siamo noi. In that work, whose title was taken from Beuys' iconic picture of himself striding in a felt suit towards the camera, the quintessential image of the active and activist artist - Cattelan presented a contrasting vision of failure and inertia: a diminutive effigy of Cattelan himself hung, in a felt suit similar to this one, from a rack. The revolution, Cattelan implied, was a failure; the revolutionary was hanging, albeit alive, but certainly useless. The idea of the artist as a vehicle for social change, it appears in both La rivoluzione siamo noi and Joseph Beuys Suit, is like an outfit that can be put into storage in the hope that it will be brought out on another more suitable occasion. As with the discarded fashions of yesteryear, Beuys' idealism is no longer, according to Cattelan's critique, valid currency in the cut and thrust of the more market- and media-friendly modern era that we inhabit. In short, as is the case with this four foot tall suit, the ideas of Beuys no longer fit. Cattelan, by presenting this humorous yet mournful empty suit, a shroud for the idealism of a previous era, manages to skewer the optimism and self-importance implied by Beuys' campaign and the more cynical, commercial world of today, which it appears is beyond healing.