Hailed simultaneously as a provocateur, prankster, and tragic poet of our times, Maurizio Cattelan has created some of the most unforgettable images in recent contemporary art. His source materials range widely, from popular culture, history, and organized religion to a meditation on the self that is at once humorous and profound. Working in a vein that can be described as hyperrealist, Cattelan creates unsettlingly veristic sculptures that reveal contradictions at the core of today’s society. While bold and irreverent, the work is also deadly serious in its scathing critique of authority and the abuse of power.
Cattelan’s youth in the Italian city of Padua was marked by economic hardship at home, punishment at school, and a string of unfulfilling, menial jobs. These early experiences instilled in him an abiding mistrust of authority and a disdain for the drudgery of labor that haunts much of his early production. He describes his work from the late 1980s and early 1990s as being “about the impossibility of doing something…about insecurity, about failure.” His pronounced anxiety about not succeeding was manifested in a series of performative escape routes from his artistic obligations. Bereft of ideas for his first solo exhibition in 1989, Cattelan simply closed the gallery and hung up a sign reading Torno subito, or “Be back soon.” His early contributions to group shows were equally delinquent: in 1992, his participation in an exhibition at the Castello di Rivara near Turin consisted of a rope of knotted bed sheets dangling from an open window (Una Domenica a Rivara [A Sunday in Rivara]), while his response to the pressure of exhibiting at the Venice Biennale was to lease his allotted space to an advertising agency, which installed a billboard promoting a new perfume (Working Is a Bad Job, 1993).