Without knowing it, I attended Maurizio Cattelan's first New York show in 1993, at the Danny Newburg Gallery.
It was Newburg's last show -- at one time Danny operated two distinguished SoHo galleries, then suddenly he just decided to pack it in.
Cattelan installed a chandelier and brought a live donkey into Newberg's space, a suitable elegy, more humorous and humane than the dead animals Maurizio has since exploited in his work.
Five years later, Cattelan introduced his giant Picasso bobblehead at MoMA, as if he were the hired entertainment at a Park Avenue party. Art-world eggheads began to compare him to Buster Keaton and Dario Fo.
The zingers poured forth from Cattelan's lounge act: a dead horse suspended from the ceiling like Catherine the Great; the artist in effigy hung out to dry in a Joey Beuys felt suit; "Look at that dog -- he dead!"
To paraphrase John Lennon, Maurizio, when the wealthy laugh, can you hear the rattle of their jewelry?
Then there's the $640,000 auction-block one-liner, drum roll please...
Did God get bored and plunk that Pope with a meteor or was it just the glorious chance of happenstance? And by the way, the Pope, he dead, too.
It may be heresy to say so, but the 81-year-old, Parkinson's Disease-ridden Polish pontiff showed more creative performance art juice retracing St. Paul's steps across the Mediterranean recently than Cattelan the hollow man with his barrel of funnies.
One consequence of the shallow pandering to the upper classes currently driving the discourse is a tendency to confuse Don Rickles with Mozart, the tinkling in the pants with the bold stroke.
So far, Maury the lounge guy is simply the avatar of the one-liner.
Whether he's capable of something really significant remains to be seen.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).