THE MULTIPLE POPES OF MAURIZIO CATTELANOct. 28, 2011
Now that he’s announced his retirement from art making, is Maurizio Cattelan worried about his legacy? The artist’s upcoming retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, which apparently features 130 of the his signature works, many dangling from the ceiling, Nov. 4, 2011-Jan. 22, 2012, is meant to mark the end of his career. Yet Italian journalist Francesca Pini doesn’t believe it. On a recent visit to the historic marble workshop and quarry Studi D’Arte Cave Michelangelo in Carrara, Tuscany, she spotted three small unfinished replicas of Cattelan’s wax sculpture of Pope John Paul II getting hit by a meteorite, The Ninth Hour (1999) -- now being fabricated in Carrara marble.
Some further digging has led her to conclude that the factory is creating a series of 10 marble popes, each 50 centimeters tall, and 50 of Cattelan’s famous middle finger sculptures in silicone rubber. Cattelan’s Milan gallery, Massimo de Carlo, did not return a request for comment by press time.
So is Cattelan channeling fellow Carrara marble sculptors Michelangelo, Canova and Bernini as a way to consecrate his artistic legacy? Pini thinks so. “Marble is the best means to monumentality,” she said. “Marble always makes a classical statement and he maybe wants to be classical. It’s a turning point.”
Beyond Cattelan’s own memorializing efforts, Pini sees this return to classicism as a trend that’s been gaining steam, citing Jan Fabre’s five marble sculptures at the current Venice Biennale, which includes a reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s Pietà (1498-1499) with the young Virgin Mary’s face replaced by a skull. Cattelan himself began using Carrara marble in his 2007 sculpture of nine gray corpses, All (2007), and later in his 36-foot-tall sculpture of a hand with all the fingers broken off but the middle one, L.O.V.E. (2010) -- which converts a fascist salute into a universal symbol of contempt -- now stationed outside the Milan stock exchange. In 2010, he made a marble funeral monument to former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi.
Sure, Cattelan has fallen in love with marble, as Pini hypothesizes, and wants to become a classical sculptor. Why not? But the series of multiples of his own work, made after his retirement -- are any more forthcoming? -- make us think of another explanation altogether. One other revolutionary artist made such an archive of multiples when he apparently quit the art business -- Marcel Duchamp, who in 1941 presented his series of mini-museums, Box in a Valise, leather-bound cases filled with scaled-down replicas of his most famous works, including a tiny porcelain urinal. Like Cattelan, Duchamp had already retired by this time, but perhaps once his masterpiece The Large Glass (1915-1923) had shattered and many of his readymades had gone missing, he grew nervous about what he’d leave behind.