“Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back”
A Portrait of the Mischievous Artist
Last night I had the opportunity to see an amazing and fascinating documentary about the artist Maurizio Cattelan. Cattelan has based his career on playful and subversive works that have riled the artistic establishment but that dramatically changed when he had a retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2011 that solidified his place in the canon of contemporary art. Director Maura Axelrod gives us a playful profile that shoes and tells us just who is Maurizio Cattelan aside from being the man behind the Guggenheim Museum’s solid-gold toilet. He has been described as “a prankster, a fraud, an imitator, an innovator, a genius, a xylophone, and “quite possibly the most infuriating smart-ass on the contemporary art scene.” Axelrod plays along with Cattalan’s insouciant attitude vis à vis his own identity and gives us a charming look at the artist.
We are reminded in the film’s its first two minutes that Cattelan’s work sells at auction for $10 million and we see this as part of his uncanny ability to command outrageous prices for work that openly critiques the institution that has embraced it.
We see ands hear an art collector say, “I think he’s one of the greatest artists that we have today — but he could also be the worst.” For more than 20 years Cattelan has garnered praise and scorn for his works that include a sculpture of Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite, a statue of a praying Adolf Hitler and functioning 18-carat gold toilet. Axelrod takes us back a bit in history and shows us the time when Catellan broke into a gallery, stole objects and exhibited them as his own and this is quite funny as is his huge sculpture of a raised middle finger placed outside a stock exchange. Yet we are awed by his 2011 retrospective, which hung from a truss atop the rotunda of the Guggenheim.
The experts are not nearly as much fun especially when talk about artists as brands and attempts to Cattelan’s past. However, art is the star of the film and director Axelrod features plenty of it. She also takes through Cattelan’s career causing us to wonder if the artist is more of a con man than a genius. We are left to decide that for ourselves.