Born in Padua, Italy in 1960, Cattelan’s Italian heritage is central to his work. He has been linked to the Italian-bred Art Povera movement for his unconventional approaches to material and conceptual audacity—an association that he is enamored by, but ultimately refutes. Despite not belonging exclusively to an Italian artistic tradition, Cattelan is displaced due to his insular battle between a contemporary reality and a collective nostalgia for the traditional notion of Italy that no longer exists. Cattelan states: “This is why nomadism is so important today; not only does it provide a constant reminder of what being an outsider feels like, but it helps you to return home and see the places you live with re-opened eyes” (the artist in conversation with Robert Nickas in Francesco Bonami, Nancy Spector and Barbara Vanderlinden, Maurizio Cattelan, London 2000, p. 132). Growing up in middle-class Italy, Cattelan was at once naïve to the social changes of the larger world, yet today works within the complex global hybridity of present culture. His 2008 work, Daddy-Daddy, depicts a life-size sculpture of Disney’s 1997 animation Pinocchio. Operating at a distance from his peers, the puppet's filmic quest is to become ‘a real boy.' In Cattelan’s rendition—in a cruel twist of fate—Pinocchio is seen lying face down in a pool of water as though he has fallen in and drowned. Presented for the first time in the 2008 exhibition, theanyspacewhatsoever, at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Daddy-Daddy can be viewed in parallel to Cattelan’s Mini-Me renditions of himself. Both sculptures share a strong Italian heritage, a large nose and a supercharged ego coupled with a sense of existential angst.
In a nod to another staple movie of 1990s, the work’s title Mini-Me bears reference to the spy movie parody Austin Powers and particularly references the small malevolent clone of the villain, Dr. Evil. Here, Cattelan’s own Mini-Me doppelganger embodies the shared roguish charisma for which both Dr. Evil and the artist are known. Notorious for his outlandish nature and instinct towards replication, Cattelan explores self-hood through the guise of humility, referencing himself as a troublemaker. While Cattelan’s highly conceptual sculptures can at first be striking, the artist does not see them at provocateurs. He states: “I actually think that reality is far more provocative than my art…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, and we just don’t react to it” (Ibid, p. 17).
Conceptual grandeur is vast throughout Cattelan’s practice. Once the immediacy of encountering a work has faded, audiences are invited to explore the pools of abstract meaning that have influenced their creation. Despite a trajectory of individual and context specific sculptural endeavors, ‘the self’ is a theme that Cattelan unusually returned to repeatedly. His whimsical self-portraits are at once self-deprecating and aggrandizing. As such, Mini Me is an important emblem of Cattelan’s inner consciousness. Although his public persona is that of a charming boisterous troublemaker, his work on a serious level endures as a manifestation of his innermost thoughts. Mini-Me suggests a certain existential anxiety, not just for Cattelan himself, but also a generalized societal apprehension as seen in society. Cattelan's refreshing awareness of the politics and absurdities of the modern world establishes itself in artworks that provide new perspectives on contextualizing oneself in relation to contemporary debate and global politics.
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