NEW YORK - Humourous, provocative, ironic, irreverent and melancholy, the work of Italian-born artist Maurizio Cattelan embodies perfectly the many contradictions of contemporary life. His realistic figurative sculptures and taxidermied animals reference – and occasionally mock – the symbols of organised religion, mortality and the darker moments in history (fascism in the 20th century), but also reveal an artist with a light comic touch. For Cattelan’s retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 2011-12, nearly every work he ever made was gathered together and suspended from the museum’s ceiling. Less than a year after that show closed, he retired from the art world. Now collector Adam Lindemann has curated Cosa Nostra, the first major presentation of Cattelan’s art since the Guggenheim survey. Nearly 20 works will be installed in two locations on the Upper East Side: Sotheby’s S|2, and Lindemann’s Venus Over Manhattan gallery. Sotheby’s spoke with Lindemann about the show and the significance of Cattelan’s distinctive output.

His work is sad and funny in the way life is funny – always bittersweet.

maurizio-cattelanMaurizio Cattelan’s Now installed in the
Chapelle des Petits Augustins de l'École
Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts at the
Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris,
2004. Photograph by Attilio Maranzano.
© 2014 Maurizio Cattelan.

How is this show different from past Cattelan exhibitions? What is the angle you have brought to it?

With two venues, this will be his largest-ever gallery show and we have installed the work in unexpected and surprising ways. I think this will be like no other show of his work that’s been seen.

What do you find most compelling about Maurizio’s work? What makes it important?

Its black humour. His work is sad and funny in the way life is funny – always bittersweet. What’s important is his unique stance in the art world, his willingness to take risks, his position as court jester and philosopher. Maurizio has just done it differently from anyone else, and he made it work.

What is the significance of the exhibition’s title Cosa Nostra? It’s the Italian term for the Sicilian mafia,
but is there more to it?

Art collecting is always an insider game, and in many ways Maurizio’s art really appeals to insiders, the committed die-hard collectors who really believe. This club-within-a-club is a kind of mafia, and paired with Maurizio’s role as art insider/disrupter, the title seems to fit. His work has also included broken bank safes, as well as pictures of him in “wanted” police sketches, so the reference to organised crime felt apt. It also references the unorthodox partnership of an auction house with a gallery, something that on its face seems suspicious.

Why did you decide to partner with an auction house to do this show?

I don’t know, maybe because everyone told me not to, and so I thought it was probably a good idea.

Cosa Nostra is a selling show – do you think it will expand his collector base?

I hope so. Cattelan collectors are many of the best collectors around, but it’s been far too long since new people were invited into the club. There’s been no way to collect the work. This exhibition will hopefully change some of that. Every collection has room for a Cattelan. It adds a touch of anarchy. Art needs to feel unpredictable to be believable.

maurizio-cattelan-2Maurizio Cattelan's Untitled, 2007.

Together, do the works tell a specific narrative?

This will really be the first time so many works can be seen all at once in a traditional gallery format. The pieces were always shown individually, installed by the artist for the specific venue. In Maurizio’s 2011–12 Guggenheim retrospective, all the works were hung from the top of the rotunda in a jumble, creating a whole new piece. In speaking to people afterwards, some were left confused by that presentation; hopefully this show will put the art back into focus.

Cattelan famously retired from the art world after the Guggenheim show. What do you make of that move?

I really don’t know. At the time I thought it was amazing. Now I wonder if it was a mistake, and I wonder if he wonders the same. I think the real narrative of our show is a reflection on his retirement. With a little distance, I hope we can reconsider the work, its impact and influence, and look at it all with fresh eyes. It will be wonderful when Maurizio makes a comeback. After this show, he might have to.

Maurizio Cattelan: Cosa Nostra will be on view at Sotheby’s S|2 gallery from 30 October through 26 November and at Venus Over Manhattan from 7–26 November.

Lead image: Photograph Courtesy Pierpaolo Ferrari.