Gruesome exhibition featuring Italy’s most controversial artist

Pic: Maurizio Cattelan at The Whitechapel Gallery

A mutilated hand suspends eerily from the ceiling with only its middle finger intact. It points to what lies below…a rug with the map of Italy embroidered into its fibers, designed in likeness to a cheese brand label.

This gruesome spectacle is part of the current exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery featuring Italy’s most controversial living artist, Maurizio Cattelan, 52.

The majority of the eight pieces displayed have never before been shown in London.

“This grouping gathers together a set of early sculptures, which are amongst the most significant of his career,” said Poppy Bowers, assistant curator at the Whitechapel Gallery.

These include the rug, Il Bel Paese (1995), translating to ‘a beautiful country,’ that is juxtaposed with the dismembered hand, Untitled (2009) – a decision made by curator Achim Borchadt-Hume for their premiere in the UK.

Show attendee Charlotte Lowrey, 25, said: “The exhibit is small but very robust in its content…Cattelan has a great sense of humour and his work should always be taken with a grain of salt.”

His art is whimsical and sinister simultaneously – touching upon subjects like mortality, criminality, and prejudice.

This concept is encapsulated best with his suicidal taxidermy squirrel, Bidibidobidiboo (1996).

“Combining humour and tragedy, the [piece] includes themes which are central to Cattelan’s work,” said Bowers.

The stuffed animal is discretely displayed on the floor in a miniaturized version of Cattelan’s childhood kitchen. A gun lies at the squirrel’s feet suggesting melancholy in the artist’s formative years but the piece still retains its sense of irony.

It is the ability to demonstrate this duality that has often made him so popular within the artistic community and intriguing to the public at large.

Pieces from the show also include Stadium (1991), a photograph featuring an all-white Northern Italian team versus an all-black North African team in a game of table football. As well as Lullaby (1994), a rubble-filled bag containing some remains of a Milan art gallery after a mafia bombing.

Despite growing up in Padua, Italy, Cattelan’s work is contentious in his native country. His repertoire includes taboo sculptures such as The Ninth Hour, presenting the Pope struck by a meteorite, and Him, depicting a diminutive Hitler kneeling in prayer.

Cattelan announced his retirement in November of 2011 following a retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York City. Curating the show himself, he elected to hang his lifetime of work from the museum’s ceiling.

This is the first of four exhibitions from the private collection of Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, which houses over 1,000 works of contemporary art. Her Turin-based organization has been collecting Cattelan’s creations since the early 1990s.

The upcoming shows include ‘Viral Research,’ 15 December 2012 – 10 March 2013, centering on Charles Ray’s sculpture of the same name; ‘A Love Meal,’ 19 March 2013 – 9 June 2013, featuring artists such as Felix Gonzalex-Torres and Pawel Althamer; and ‘Have you seen me before?’ 18 June 2013 – 8 September 2013, concentrating on the works of Paolo Pivi and Philippe Parreno.

Maurizio Cattelan’s exhibit will be on display until the 2nd of December in Gallery 7 of the Whitechapel Gallery. 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, E1 7QX. Admission is free.

By Sasha Filimonov

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