- Maurizio Cattelan
- The Ballad of Trotsky
- taxidermied horse, leather saddlery, rope, pulley
- dimensions variable
- Executed in 1996.
Galleria Massimo De Carlo, Milan
Pier Luigi Mazzari, Milan (acquired from the above)
Christie's, London, June 27, 2001, Lot 19
Acquired by the present owner from the above
La Biennale di Venezia. XLVII Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte. General Catalogue, Venice, 1997, p. 299, illustrated in color
Maurizio Cattelan, Bretigny-sur-Orge/Dijon/Paris, 1997, np. illustrated in color
Francesco Bonami, Nancy Spector, Barbara Vanderlinden, Massimiliano Gioni, Maurizio Cattelan, London, 2000, p. 23, illustrated in color
Jacinto Lageira and Stephen Wright, "Absurdity for All, Belonging to Nobody", Parachute, vol. no. 109, January/March 2003, p. 13, illustrated in color
If Cattelan’s enterprise is one that shows a mirror to society and forces us to consider ourselves within the world, then that reflection or revelation is one hinged on a series of simulacra that engage with the paradoxes of transgression and the limits of tolerance, oscillating between the polarities of frivolity and sobriety. This is nowhere more profoundly realized than in his works which display taxidermied animals in a variety of environments that sometimes suggest a narrative and sometimes have no context whatsoever but rather move the viewer in their compelling isolation. These works are at once funny, shocking, disturbing and engrossing. Stuffed pigeons are perched on top of other artists’ works at the Venice Biennial; a tiny ferret appears to have committed suicide with a gun whilst sitting at a tiny kitchen table; a dog sleeps peacefully under a museum guard’s chair. Only after absorbing the work for a while, does one appreciate the more serious subtexts at play: the communion of life and death as a drama of humanity being enacted by a cast of animals. The very means of these animals’ preservation – taxidermy – creates an ongoing dialogue between multiple layers of ‘reality’: those of the animal, its presentation, its negation of context and its new role as aesthetic ‘object’.
The Ballad of Trotsky is perhaps Cattelan’s most important work that employs taxidermied animals. One is instantly mesmerized by this large horse, harnessed and suspended in mid-air, isolated against the large and open empty space of the gallery. There is something frightening and sad about the horse, forever immobilized in the air, and yet elegant and awe-inspiring. At the same time (and in keeping with Cattelan’s voice) the image is completely absurd. Cattelan takes the strength and power of a horse – a beast of burden – and transforms it into an image of impotence that reflects the tragi-comic predicament of the human condition. The title of the work is also telling: a monument to the paralysis of a universal utopia and the usurpation of romantic idealism by the darker side of human nature. This work is a lament for the death of Trotsky and, more importantly, the failure of the potential of his ideal and the imperfections of our lives.
The present work strikes a chord with the work Cattelan chose to display for his first exhibition in America. Warning! Enter at your own risk. Do not touch, do not feed, no smoking, no photographs, no dogs, thank you. (1994) saw Cattelan ‘display’ a live donkey at the Daniel Newburg Gallery, accompanied only by a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The donkey can be seen to represent the artist, caught in the ‘gallery glare’ of the New York art scene, signified by the chandelier in the empty gallery space. Cattelan manipulates the traditional stereotypes associated with the animal and stitches them onto a portrait of his own predicament as the new star of the art world. Moreover, this juxtaposition of donkey and chandelier pokes fun at this bizarre marriage between a regular guy from Padua and New York’s glitterati. The Ballad of Trotsky can be seen as a refinement of Cattelan’s first work to be shown in the United States. Later, in 1997, Cattelan would refine The Ballad of Trotsky when he made Novocento. A similar horse is also suspended in mid-air, except now its legs are exaggerated, as if emphasizing not only the pull of gravity on the horse physically, but also symbolically. That horse is, literally, caught between two worlds.
The present work powerfully displays what Cattelan has described as ‘frozen energy’. Here, that speaks of a millennial existential plight. Despite the joviality of his prankster-like reputation, and the warm humor that is clearly evident in his works, Cattelan reveals himself here to be a serious ‘realist’, one who tackles the disillusionment of a generation.