"A Fear of Regret Has Always Been My Inspiration": Maurizio Cattelan on His Guggenheim Survey

"A Fear of Regret Has Always Been My Inspiration": Maurizio Cattelan on His Guggenheim Survey

It is a season of upheaval at New York's museums. A week after German artist Carsten Holler unveiled his massive slide in the New Museum foyer, another local institution is preparing to be transformed. The highly anticipated retrospective of Italian artist, jokester, and provocateur Maurizio Cattelan is opening Friday, November 4. Approximately 130 works — examples of virtually everything the artist has produced since 1989 — will be hung from rope like so many sausages, or laundry put out to dry. Powerful collectors, including Greek magnate Dakis Joannou, have agreed to lend their hard-won collectibles to the show, despite the perilous display. The dramatic presentation is made even more buzzworthy by the fact that the exhibition marks the artist's self-declared "official retirement" from the art world.

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The task of mounting a retrospective of an artist as mercurial as Cattelan was far from simple. "Many of his early, action-based meditations are impossible to reconstruct, and his singular, iconic objects function best in isolation," said the Guggenheim's chief curator Nancy Spector in a statement. "'Maurizio Cattelan: All' is thus a full-scale admission of the inadvisability of viewing his work within the context of a conventional chronological retrospective. The artist has resisted this model, creating instead a site-specific installation that cunningly celebrates its rebelliousness." At times, however, the artist's rebelliousness has been tempered by a fear of failure: for his first solo show in 1989, he closed the gallery and hung a sign reading, "Be back later." He rented out his allotted space at the 1993 Venice Biennale to an ad agency rather than mount his own exhibition. Now, rather than provoke his audience by showing none of his work, Cattelan will perform the opposite trick: he will show it all at once. 

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In anticipation of the artist's first retrospective, ARTINFO corresponded with Cattelan via e-mail to discuss the dangers of his installation and the anxiety that led to his retirement. 

You are notorious for playing tricks on the press and convincing friends, like New Museum curator Massimiliano Gioni, to "play" you at lectures. Since this is an e-mail interview, how can we know this is really you?

My name is Maurizio Cattelan and I was born 51 years ago. My mother always used to say I was a terrorist and a prostitute. So which would you prefer to have? Massimiliano Gioni or me?

It's been reported that you agreed to a retrospective of your work at the Guggenheim on the condition that all your pieces hang in the atrium. How did you come up with the idea? What does it mean?

Nancy Spector and I discussed different ideas over a number of years, but in the end it was simple. The rotunda is an exceptional space which it's impossible not to love, but it's also a problem that you're forced to deal with. I decided to be part of the conversation in an active way. 

You've long been described as a prankster or a jokester. Do you think your work has been misunderstood? How do you want people to experience your art?

I consider myself deadly serious and often boring. I'm responsible for provoking questions, not answering them. The answers are always inside the viewer, and understanding requires focus.

The Guggenheim exhibition marks your first career retrospective. How do you feel your art has developed over the course of your career? What interests you now that didn't interest you when you started?

Whatever you do, your experience is always teaching you something new about yourself. So along the way my work has been my tutor, my therapist, my friend, and my constant nightmare.

You've said this exhibition also marks your retirement from art. Why are you retiring? What do you plan to do with your time? Are there any other professions that have captured your imagination? 

There's a moment in your life when you're at risk of becoming a parody of yourself. So before that happens, use retirement as a way to save yourself. Much better than being the laughing stock of your friends.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as an artist, and what is your biggest regret as an artist?

The best aspect is independence, being my own master. Regrets should be avoided at all costs, which is the best reason to keep challenging yourself. A fear of regret has always been my inspiration.

Your art often finds itself in dangerous situations: in theanyspacewhatever show at the Guggenheim in 2009, your sculpture of Pinocchio was left floating face down in a pool of water. Now, your sculptures will be hanging precariously from the ceiling. What would happen — and how would you feel — if they all came crashing down?

That's why God gave us insurance!