In Milan, Maurizio Cattelan ruminates on death with an installation in a crematorium and a shocking new self-portrait
Italian maverick artist Maurizio Cattelan is not afraid of death. In fact, the ultimate end is the subject of the artist’s two new exhibitions in Milan. Perhaps counterintuitively, Cattelan hopes these projects will shed light on how to live with pain and trauma in times of turmoil.
“These two works may not be explicitly linked to the tragedies of pandemic or war, but how can you abstract them from the times we live in?” Cattelan told Artnet News. “Art does not exist without the reactions of the public.”
The two exhibitions of unique works – “Lullaby” and “YOU” – are, according to the artist, “magnifying lenses for our secreted pains”.
Both exhibitions opened in Milan last week as part of Milano Art Week, which saw a series of institutional and commercial openings as well as the return of Miart. The project follows a high-profile exhibition by the artist at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, which attracted even more visitors than the museum’s blockbuster Warhol show.
“Lullaby” is a reinstallation of a work of the same name that the artist created in 1994 and has just donated to the city of Milan, where he currently lives. The installation is made of stacks of bags that the artist has filled with debris from a 1993 explosion and the Mafia terrorist attack at the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea (PAC), which left five people dead and the whole town in shock.
Rather than showing the work in a white cube, Cattelan opted for a much more visceral setting: the cremation room of the city’s Cimetière Monumental. Two piles of rubble rest on train tracks that usually carry beds carrying bodies to the crematorium. Visitors must take a long and winding path to find the installation, which is on view until November 6, after which it will enter the collection of the Museo del Novecento.
“lullaby is symbolic of collective trauma: the dramatic bombshells that rocked Italy (and beyond) targeted cultural sites, museums and institutions and were emblematic of an attack on the very idea of the future,” Cattelan said.
The city moved quickly to rebuild the damaged sites, trying to bury the injuries and recover from the shock, according to the artist. But the trauma persists and the “debris is what remained as a physical obstacle to its complete elimination”. The piles of rubble on train tracks, Cattelan concluded, are stories and narratives of humanity on “a linear path through history.”
YOU, on the other hand, is a new work unveiled at MASSIMODECARLO, which includes a statue of the artist suspended from a noose in the green marble bathroom designed by Pietro Portaluppi. Dressed in a blue suit, the barefoot figure holds a bouquet of flowers in his right hand.
Cattelan argues that there is more to the work than the immediate shock of seeing it hanging from the ceiling. “Big changes, revolutions, trauma all bring uncertainty. In fact, all the time is uncertain,” he said. “lullaby and YOU are in good company. Looking at my work there is clearly a sense of loss that connects them all.
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