The second time Maurizio Cattelan was invited to represent Italy at the Venice Biennale, in 1997, he filled the galleries of the Italian Pavilion with stuffed pigeons, an installation he named Turisti.
Curated by Germano Celant, the central theme of the Biennale was the mixing of the generations in Post-War Italian art. Cattelan, as one of the younger Italian artists, though one whose work in fact follows strongly in the tradition of modern Italian art, responded to this challenge in a typically idiosyncratic way.
Only a month before the opening, he visited the space where he was to exhibit only to find a chaotic and abandoned Italian Pavilion; “the inside was a shambles and it was filled, really filled, with pigeons. For me as an Italian, it was like seeing something you're not supposed to see, like the dressing room of the Pope. But then again, that is the situation in Venice, so I thought I should just present it as it is, a normal situation”(Maurizio Cattelan cited in: ‘Nancy Spector in conversation with Maurizio Cattelan’, in: Francesco Bonami et al., Maurizio Cattelan
, London 2000, p. 19). The exhibition juxtaposed works by Enzo Cucchi and Ettore Spalletti alongside those of Cattelan, creating a conflicting harmony that brought to the fore each of the artist’s creative preoccupations. Cattelan, true to his singular artistic approach, created artworks that were meant to disrupt the viewer’s perception, offering a sarcastic commentary on Cucchi and Spalleti’s own works. In an interview with Nancy Spector, Cattelan spoke of his installation saying: “We have to kill the father – otherwise we have to lick his feet […] I did a little of both, it was in-between. I tried to make my fathers laugh, while taking away some of the space devoted to them” (Ibid.
, p. 18). As such, Cattelan installed a chandelier that hung directly in front of Cucchi’s paintings, bicycles were leaned against the wall next to Spalletti’s monochromes, and ultimately pigeons roosting along the ventilation ducts and their fake droppings on the floor leaving the visitors astonished and with a sense of eeriness as for once, it was them being observed and not the other way around.
Just as the Turisti from the Venice Biennale, this version - created one year later - is also a reflection of the millions of tourists who travel to Venice every year. Perched above the rafters of the Pavilion, they are art objects that mimic their audience of visitors, seeming to be also duped witnesses of an empty pavilion. In emphasising the empty space of the pavilion, through these birds, Cattelan was also drawing the notion of time as a defining element of space. "I guess if there was anything really provocative about this work it was in its relationship to time", Cattelan has said, "time doesn't affect this place; basically all the Biennales look the same. If I could, I would love to set up the same show twice in two consecutive Biennales. I think that no-one would notice. So I installed the birds and the bird shit to prove that everything stands still in that place, that 'Time goes by so slowly'- that is another song" (Ibid., p. 22).