In Mini-Me, Cattelan represents himself in action figurine scale. The title of the work is borrowed from the 1997 film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, in which the villain ‘Dr. Evil’ has a miniature sidekick who dresses, acts, and looks identical. Thus, from the first moment of interpretation, Cattelan introduces a trademark sense of the absurd. The work looks like a toy and the title riffs off a bawdy contemporaneous film. It is as if Cattelan is imploring his viewer to write him off as a joker, trickster, or charlatan – not worthy of consideration in the high art context. It is a total inversion of the self-portrait tradition, which, throughout art history, has allowed artists to self-aggrandise and glorify their practice. Mini-Me’s distinct mood of conspiratorial self-deprecation recalls earlier works from Cattelan’s career, like Una Domenica a Rivara (A Sunday in Rivara, 1992) – an installation that Cattelan made specifically for his inclusion in a group show at the Castella di Rivara, Italy. The work consisted solely of a number of knotted bed-sheets dangling from the venue’s top floor window, making it seem as if the artist had escaped the exhibition space, either devoid of ideas or too daunted by the task of presenting them alongside those of his peers.
In its puppet-like appearance, Mini-Me can also be read as one of the earliest references to the story of Pinocchio in Cattelan’s career. Pinocchio is a recurring motif in Cattean’s oeuvre, most famously deployed in Daddy Daddy, now in the permanent collection of the Guggenheim in New York, in which the puppet is shown lying face down in a pool of water. It’s a shocking image, in which Pinocchio’s brightly coloured Disney costume jars with his macabre pose, and is typically subversive: Cattelan shows the puppet as dead precisely to remind his viewer that it was never alive in the first place. Mini-Me toys with the same concepts of image and identity. However, where Pinocchio is at once a wooden puppet hewn by Gepetto and a real boy capable of independent action, Cattelan is at once artist and art work – puppet and puppet-master. Cattelan’s identity is inextricably fused with his works; he controls them only so much as he is controlled by them and knowledge of the artist only adds to effective interpretation of the art work. It is further amusing to note that Cattelan’s most immediately recognisable physiognomic trait is his large aquiline nose. By playing on Pinocchio’s well-known trait, whereby his nose grew every time he lied, Cattelan emphasises the seditious trickery that is the foundation of his oeuvre and continues the theme of tongue-in-cheek self-effacement that abounds through this work.
Although they are paradigm-shifting, unique, and revolutionary, Cattelan’s works nonetheless draw much from art historical precedent. The sculptures of Martin Kippenberger form an interesting parallel: working in the decades immediately preceding Cattelan, Kippenberger also fused his own identity inextricably with his works, and also engaged in tactics of extreme self-effacement, treating his own image in a grotesque manner with equal parts absurd humour and pathos. Like Cattelan, Kippenberger had a hugely diverse field of influence, drawing upon anything from nursery rhymes to Pop culture as source material. Marcel Duchamp is also supremely important for Cattelan: the progenitor of the readymade and the original art world trickster. Duchamp was the first of the anti-artists, the first to use the evocative powers of art works to attack and undermine the structures and institutions surrounding them. In works like Mini-Me, Cattelan takes up his mantle and recalibrates it for the modern age; for our own era of collectable action figurines and quotable films that predominate popular culture. Indeed, we cannot forget that by casting his miniature doppelganger as Mini-Me, Cattelan has cast himself as Dr. Evil, the comically criminal arch villain of the contemporary art world, borne forth to wreak havoc.
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