Maurizio Cattelan is the world’s funniest artist. His ultra-realist works of art are three-dimensional cartoons about the contradictions and follies of the art world, art history and, beyond that, of Western civilization.
Born in Italy in 1960, Cattelan made his name with sculptures like “The Ninth Hour”, a waxwork of the Pope struck by a meteorite (1999) or ‘Him’ (2001), another super-realistic waxwork, this time of Hitler as a little boy kneeling in prayer.
He stuck his Italian gallerist Massimo De Carlo to the walls of his gallery with wrapping tape and dressed up his French one, Emmanuel Perrotin, in a penis outfit.
He made a portrait of supermodel Stephanie Seymour for her husband, art collector and newspaper magnate Peter Brant, in which he created a bust of Seymour protruding out of a wooden plaque like an nineteenth century hunting trophy with the head of a stag.
In recent years, Cattelan co-curated the acclaimed Berlin Biennial in 2006.Cattelan’s works of art seemed original and important to me because although they were always simple images, they tackled big issues – Fascism, religion, vanity – with great humour and precision. So I asked him if I could make a film about him. Maurizio said I could make my film as long as he didn’t have to appear in it. It would be okay, he said, because he had a double, Italian curator Massimiliano Gioni, who posed as him and always did his interviews. But for me, that was a problem. It would be very difficult to make a film about an artist without the artist in it and not disappoint my beloved television viewers.
Yet I could not pass up the opportunity to make a documentary about an artist I admired so much. I had to think of a clever way of persuading Maurizio to appear at least briefly in my film.Ever since Marcel Duchamp and his urinal, artists had been taking things from the real world and plonking them an art gallery and calling them art. I had always felt somewhat resentful of this, because often those things looked fine and were much more useful in their original real-world location.
Cattelan’s hyper-realist waxwork sculptures were descendents of the readymade, in the sense that they were replicas of things in the real world. I decided to use my Cattelan film to take revenge against the readymade. I would bring Cattelan’s sculptures to life with look-a-like actors – and then try to get those sculptures to interview the artist.
The climax of this process came at the Venice Biennale 2003. I knew Maurizio would be there. He had once made a work, in which a person in a huge Picasso mask stood outside MOMA in New York, greeting visitors like a character from Disneyland.
Inspired by this, I had a huge mask made of Cattelan’s face and I walked around the Venice Biennale in it, hoping Maurizio would be so impressed he’d talk to me. He did eventually come to speak to me, but I think his motivation was the opposite of what I hoped: I think he thought my work was terrible and he was worried that visitors would think it was one of his, and the only way he could stop me parading around as a Cattelan was by finally letting himself be filmed on camera with me….