"Certain references recur over and over in my work. They pop up all the time, even when I wish they wouldn't. but that's OK: I find it useful to repeat things over and over ad infinitum. Sooner or later I might get it right."
(Maurizio Cattelan in Maurizio Cattelan, F. Bonami, N. Spector, B. Vanderlinden and M. Gioni, London, 2003, p.148).
Maurizio Cattelan has a reputation in the art world of playing the clown, a trickster of sorts, juggling shamelessly with the traditions of art, literature and popular culture. It is true that much of his humor is reminiscent of the age old Italian tradition of comedy. Actors such as Toto and Alberto Sordi come to mind, figures who encapsulate the notion of Italian parody. In many ways, Cattelan himself uses similar techniques as his art embraces the absurd, using ironic wit to make critical commentary on the state of art and modern life.
In the early 1990's, the artist began employing various taxidermied animals to represent a transformed sense of reality. Cattelan carefully manipulated the poses and environments in which these animals were situated, in so doing, projecting new meanings on to the works themselves. In one case, the viewer might find a miniature squirrel seemingly asleep on a kitchen table, but upon closer observation one sees a gun lying at the feet of the animal. One might come across three mice sitting in a single toy deckchair near a beach umbrella, or life-size ostrich with its head buried in the floor. At times these tableuas suggest a narrative, and other times there is no context to the situation at all, instead the animal is in complete isolation. Yet all of these animals appear like Surrealist constructs, odd and alienated, yet delightfully persuasive. They remind the viewer of the communion between life and death, the existence of multiple layers of reality. There is a very theatrical element in all of Cattelan's work, and Not Afraid of Love, 2000 is no exception. The viewer is confronted by this huge creature, whose eyes, trunk and legs stick out from under an enormous white sheet. There is something at once frightening and funny about this elephant. The beast tries to hide its size, weight and presence and in so doing, renders himself completely absurd. Elephants by nature are adaptable creatures, animals that are at home in many different types of landscapes. The elephant is a powerful animal, but Cattelan has transformed this strength into vulnerability. The artist has subverted the generally acknowledged authority of the elephant as ruler of its environment, as here it literally tries to hide itself from view.
Not Afraid of Love plays with the popular expression of an elephant being in the room, in other words, a situation gone awry and yet on everyone's mind, but nobody dares to speak about it. The situation though is impossible to ignore, very much like an elephant in the room. Furthermore, a white elephant implies that something is more trouble than it is worth. His use of a white sheet also brings to mind the Klu Klux Klan, who very well may be considered one of the nation's first terrorist groups. Whether the white sheet refers to the official regalia of this group or to a ghostly Halloween costume is not clear, but Cattelan does toy with the inherent meanings of these various associations. Cattelan's work is then a catalyst for opposing forces and deeds. "Cattelan's shock tactics differ, therefore, from the sensationalized art of the 1990s. It is not the surprise effect or the spectacle per se that interests him; it is rather the possibility of using objects and artworks to create new relationships and connections." (M.Gioni, Maurizio Cattelan, London 2003, p.170)
The artist's work gives form to a particular variant of figurative sculpture that is immediately understood by a wide audience. No matter of one's own interpretation, the viewer is forced to take a stance, have an opinion. In developing this language and family of sculpture, the artist has been continuously interested in the theme of self-representation. Cattelan has captured his image in Mini-me's and sketches, even in taxidermied animals. Often it seems as if the artist projects human feelings into an animal form, and so too here in Not Afraid of Love can we image the artist at one of his openings, wishing he was hidden under a white sheet, hiding from the love of his adoring fans.
Sculpture of Dancing Ganesh, South-eastern Uhar Pradesh, North India Mid-18th century British Museum
Man Ray, L'Enigma d'Isidore Ducasse, 1920 c 2004 Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris