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Lot 6: Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960)

Est: $700,000 USD - $900,000 USDSold:
Christie'sNovember 10, 2004New York, NY, US

Item Overview


painted wax, hair and fabric
figure--height: 59 in. (150 cm.)
hole--23.58 x 15 3/4 in. (60 x 40 cm.)
Executed in 2001. This work is an edition of three plus one artist's proof.

Artist or Maker


Trento, Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea, Maurizio Cattelan. New project for the Galleria Civica di Arte Contemporanea Trento, March-September 2004 (another example exhibited).
Athens, Deste Foundation, Monument to Now, June-December 2004 (another example exhibited).
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, on long-term loan (another example exhibited).


F. Bonami, N. Spector, et. al., Maurizio Cattelan, New York and London, 2003. pp. 152-153 (illustrated in color).


Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris


Maurizio Cattelan has often been called the enfant terrible of the art world. The label comes more from his comical gestures than from any childish antics. In his worldview, reality is a mind-altering drug interlaced with humor. "I'm always borrowing pieces--crumbs really--of everyday reality. If you think my work is very provocative, it means that reality is extremely provocative" states the artist. Reality of all kinds informs his works--realities of the contemporary art world, of social and political matters, even the jagged experience of walking down the street is relevant for Cattelan. Reality is the most subjective of concepts, second only to perhaps humor, and the two are inseparable and indistinguishable for the artist.

In service to the ever-changing concepts of the self, Cattelan seems to enjoy the challenge of capturing his own image over and over again in the most unlikely manifestations. Will he appear doll-like, many multiples smaller than life size on a bookshelf in the form of a Mini-me? Or as a rubber mask repeated many times over, as if to negate his uniqueness in his Spermini works? Or might he appear decades younger, riding a tricycle down a city street? In Untitled, Cattelan is at his best and most subversive. Out of a hole in the floor, the artist appears peaking his head up like an interloper in the viewer's space. It appears as if he has tunneled himself in, like a gopher that rears his head, nearly always uninvited. The first installation of this work in 2001 at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Holland was wildly memorable as the artist forced an entry into a Nineteen Century Dutch painting show by appearing up through the museum's floor. There was the self-portrait of the artist, looking innocent enough, trying to find out where he was within this context of art history. While all the elegant paintings behaved as they always had, Cattelan's self portrait couldn't contain itself--literally.

Comedic traditions, specifically the Italian comics of the Twentieth Century are important precursors for Cattelan. The curator Laura Hoptman has placed his work in a trajectory of the commedia dell'arte in Twentieth Century Italian film and theater- the playwright Luigi Pirandello, the dramaturges Dario Fo and Franca Rama, and the actor Roberto Benigni. Certainly Cattelan fits well in this tradition that owes more to the absurd than it does to slapstick humor. In the realm of Italian art history, Untitled bears some reference to the spirit of Piero Manzoni's Base Magica-Scultura Vivente (1961). Manzoni's canonical conceptual work consists of an unadorned wooden pedestal, perfectly scaled to accommodate a human, alive. The title translates to "Magic Base-Living Sculpture" and one can only ponder what sort of magic could come from mounting it. Would one be transformed? Forced to measure up against Classical sculpture? Certainly, one would have to accept the role of being a jester in a joke invented by the artist, whether an audience exists or not. Manzoni's Base Magica-Scultura Vivente, like Cattelan's Untitled, is a conceptual critique on the museum as a powerful entity that vets and decides an artist's fate. The base on the floor as institutional infrastructure was later contested by the Minimalists who ultimately deemed it to be interference in experiencing a work of sculpture. Cattelan, rearing his head through the floor, is so far from the base as a discussion point, that his way of presenting his work is virtually criminal in action.

One of the qualities of Untitled is the imaged reality of the performance that must have occurred to get the artist into the gallery. One can hardly look at this work without thinking about the logistics of tunneling in the artist, or his surrogate self. Performance is an important part of Cattelan's work, particularly the self-portraits, because they are almost always provocatively installed, and ask that the viewer re-consider his own reality to fully grasp the work. While Cattelan's comedic inspiration may come from Italian theater and cinema, his performative instincts owe some debt to Paul McCarthy, an artist of who since the early 1970s has always deployed the human body as both subject and material in his work. Like Cattelan, he is often the subject of his work, and he is unafraid of excavating contemporary reality to reveal societal ills or conundrums. His 1972 performance Plaster Your Head and One Arm into a Wall, as the title implies, was an attempt by the artist to insert himself, literally merge, with the room that was to contain his art. The resulting photographic documentation shows the artist "magically" enmeshed in a submissive position with regard to the art space. While Cattelan seeks to take control of his role within art history, McCarthy is either subjugated by it or mocking of it. In the end, neither is claiming success with regard to their place within art; Cattelan is as much the bold intruder as McCarthy is the voluntary masochist.

Subsequent installations of Untitled, whether in a museum setting or in the home of a private collector always reveal the same nagging question-what is the artist's role in the continuum of art, both among one's peers and in art history? By placing his self-portrait within art settings as an interloper, Cattelan sees himself as the gatecrasher, the outsider and the hysterically funny renegade he has come to be known as in the art world.

Piero Manzoni, Base Magica--sculptura vivente, 1961 Private collection, Milan c 2004 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

Paul McCarthy, Plaster your head and one arm into a wall, 1973 performance

Auction Details

Post War and Contemporary Art - Evening Sale

November 10, 2004, 12:00 AM EST

20 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, 10020, US