Maurizio Cattelan’s Got a Gun Show

“You should never ask an artist about their art,” Maurizio Cattelan said, immediately on arrival. “The best art raises lots and lots of questions,” he added. “Not answers.”

One of today’s foremost artists, with a reputation that pervades well beyond the art world, Cattelan, 63, has a new bullet-riddled exhibition in New York that is bound to raise even more questions — and some eyebrows.

He grants vanishingly few in-person interviews, he prefers image-making to explaining his images in words, and he’s skittish about journalists mischaracterizing him. Yet he arrived early for our appointed meeting, parking his bicycle by the bench where, on the first hot spring day in Milan, we sat in the shade of a monastery. With his trademark swoosh of silver hair and his feet up on the bench like a schoolchild, he spoke eagerly in Italian about his first major New York exhibition since his pivotal retrospective, “All,”at theGuggenheim in 2011, in which nearly his entire oeuvre was suspended like a mobile.

“I hate,” he declared, “when they call me a joker.” The artist, who notoriously created an effigy of a pope toppled by a meteorite, made a fully-functioning solid gold toilet that he named “America,” and blew the world’s collective mind when he taped a banana to the wall and sold it as art, has continually garnered variations of the joker title — jester, prankster, trickster — but his is the cosmic joke, the joke of the Stoic philosophers: death, and our illusions of self-importance before oblivion comes for us, and for him.

Cattelan’s “La Nona Ora,” 1999, an effigy of Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite, was largely understood as irreverent black humor when it was shown at Monnaie de Paris, 2016. But Cattelan was selected to participate in this year’s Vatican pavilion at the Venice Biennale.Credit…via Maurizio Cattelan and Gagosian; Photo by Zeno Zotti
A functioning 18-karat gold toilet that Cattelan named “America” was installed at the Guggenheim Museum and later stolen from Blenheim Palace, the English country mansion where it was exhibited. It was melted down by thieves.Credit…via Maurizio Cattelan, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, and Gagosian; Photo by Jacopo Zotti
A source of fascination and fury, and endless memes, Cattelan’s banana duct-taped to a wall as art was sold for $120,000 at Art Basel Miami in 2019.Credit…via Maurizio Cattelan and Gagosian; Photo by Zeno Zotti
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