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Cattelan at the Guggenheim

For our day, we went to see the Cattelan show at the Guggenheim. When we arrived, the museum seemed to be very crowded: a line of people had queued up, waiting to get in, and I thought, “Well, I bet it was even more crowded during the free day.” But we waited, patientlike, with tourists and old people. “Is this the line?” “Unless you’re a member.” The crowds were denser inside. We concurred that it was a “madhouse.”

The curators chose to display the work in an unconventional way to stress the unconventionality of Cattelan’s work; it also had the effect of exaggerating the density of the crowd. Everything was suspended from a latticework in the central space of the museum and the walls were left bare. So, instead of being dispersed and fixated on this or that disparate stretch of wall, everyone in the entire museum clustered around the corkscrewing, ascending rail, angling to get a different vantage on the suspended works, none of which were labeled. (A side effect of this was that I got to see, probably for the one and only time, a toddler strip off her shoes and plod around in one of the art-displaying alcoves; the staff, who staff would generally and promptly remove her, let her climb and toddle about. “Very cute,” we thought.)

The presentation was definitely something. I struggled for a while to bring forward the right adjective to describe it. Rounding the first curve of the spiral, I could feel a certain word’s ghostly shape in my mouth, but I couldn’t make it fully present itself. Indistinct, twitching, my thoughts moved from “assured” to “confident,” but nothing along the way really seemed to fit what was going on in the exhibition. Eventually I settled on “cocky.” The show, and Cattelan’s work itself, was cocky.

In the sense of being the work of someone who seems like he’s a dick and fairly unapologetically self-absorbed. Were the many instances of the Zorro slashes a comment on the creator’s own sense of his abilities? Or did he just love the comics as a kid? From “cocky,” I moved to “brazen.” This might have been after I saw the riffs on the image of Christ: instead of a bearded Jesus, we see two sculptures of women, one in a messianic pose of either blessing or ascension; the other in a mock crucifixion, face-down and restrained in a bed, along with poles through her palms. Then there were the multiple self-portraits, hanged children, taxidermied dogs and donkeys, and lots of pigeons and cat skeletons. Dudely work.

I wouldn’t want to have tea with him.” Neither would I.

Categories: Notes.

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