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Maurizio Cattelan On View at The Menil Collection

The artist’s first solo show in the U.S. since 2003

Comedians manipulate and make fun of reality. Whereas I actually think that reality is far more provocative than my art. – Maurizio Cattelan

Houston, December 18, 2009 – Born in the university town of Padua in 1960, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is known for his playful yet disconcerting use of materials, objects, and actions – and for manipulating their larger contexts and meaning. In his work the artist unleashes critiques on a range of issues, from nationalism and organized religion to art history and to the very concept of an art museum. Cattelan’s uncanny juxtapositions uproot and invert conventional understandings of the world around us.

Organized by Franklin Sirmans, the Menil’s curator of modern and contemporary art, the exhibition, Maurizio Cattelan, presents the U.S. debut of recent large-scale works and site-specific installations as well as four new works. The artist’s first solo show in this country since 2003, it also marks his return to sculpture. In Cattelan’s sculpture, the ability of images to embody social issues – social, political, moral — is powerful. Cattelan’s free use of images in the public realm and consciousness is daring; as he once told The New Yorker, “I do not know exactly why, but it seems to me that images do not belong to anybody but are instead there, at the disposal of all.”

The 47th Venice Biennale (1997) established Cattelan’s significance as an Italian artist and heir to Arte Povera, which challenged art-making conventions by employing the most ordinary, “poor” materials. By combining the familiarity and accessibility of Pop Art and the unpredictability of Dada and Surrealism with iconic and controversial imagery (for example, corrupt Popes, headless horses, Nazi salutes), the disturbing aspects of Cattelan’s work are lightened somehow by their absurdities – while still being powerfully subversive.

For the last five years the artist has focused on publishing and curatorial work. Projects have included the 2002 founding of The Wrong Gallery (and its subsequent display at Tate Modern), and on collaborations such as Permanent Food (an occasional journal comprising a pastiche of pages torn from other magazines) and Charley (a series on contemporary artists). Cattelan also served as curator of the Caribbean Biennial in 1999 and the Berlin Biennial in 2006.

Deeply involved in the country of his birth and its history — especially with regard to art and politics — Cattelan functions in the world of global art and images. He lives in New York but maintains an apartment in Milan, where he began his career as artist-provocateur (and where he met Menil curator Franklin Sirmans, who at the time was working at Flash Art magazine).

Cattelan often first visualizes his works in two dimensions⎯seeing how it will look on the printed or digital page⎯perhaps because of the daunting figurative and literal weight of making sculpture. At the heart of his endeavors has been the desire to create a body of images that “lives in your head,” in the subconscious, which Cattelan maintains are triggered not so much by seeing his work in the flesh but rather through reproductions in print and on a computer screen. The creation of images, as opposed to physically tangible lasting objects, drives his artistic production, as evidenced by his statement in a 2005 interview in Sculpture: “It feels strange to talk about sculptures. It’s not so much a question of means as of images…More than anything else, I listen to the murmur of images.”

This exhibition is generously supported by Marion Barthelme and Jeff Fort; Frances Dittmer; Barbara and Michael Gamson; William J. Hill; Jackson and Company; Sotheby’s; The Stardust Fund; Michael Zilkha; the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Los Angeles, directed by Francesca Valente; and the City of Houston.