The Chimerist

It looks like a jumbled mess of puppetry here, but the Maurizio Cattelan retrospective at the Guggenheim was cumulatively astonishing. JFK lay in his casket amid precariously perched old sleeping dogs, suicides with dirty feet, a sad taxidermied donkey, a KKK-sheet-wearing elephant, an XXXL grocery cart, and a gigantic, terrifying cat skeleton… So much dangled from the ceiling, you couldn’t begin to take it in until you walked down the spiral and considered everything individually. 

The paper catalog was a remarkably bare-bones production, offering only a diagram, the title of each work, a brief summary of the materials used, and the year of creation. And because it went to the printer before the arrangement of the show was finalized, it was really just about worthless. But the objects were so striking, and so unsettling — suggesting, as Linda Yablonsky has written, a “mass suicide by hanging" — I didn’t mind much. 

My stepdaughter and I took the elevator to the top and made our way down the ramp. Every ten steps or so we found ourselves backtracking to take a closer look at something we’d moved past too hastily. Max, my husband, was of a different mind, sharing Peter Schjeldahl’s skepticism, and at least as interested in the empty gallery bays as in the exhibition itself. But this was my favorite Guggenheim show, even more strange, original, and affecting than Ann Hamilton’s Human Carriage, and far surpassing, for instance, the 50th anniversary Frank Lloyd Wright show and my first exposure, twelve or thirteen years ago now, to the museum’s vast collection of Mirós and Kandinskys. When we reached the bottom of the spiral, I wished we had time to walk back up again.

At home later I downloaded the iPad app (for $3.99; perhaps the short shrift given the paper catalog wasn’t entirely unintentional).  Of the many fine museum apps out there, it’s one of the best I’ve found — not just a great supplement, but the only possible substitute, now that the show has closed, for being there.

Hosted, fittingly, by an amused and admiring John Waters, it provides an overview of Cattelan’s work and discusses the logistics of installing it. Users can view the entire exhibition from several different (slightly choppy to navigate) angles. Selecting any individual work leads you to a photograph and description of it in its original context. (That’s the cat skeleton above.)

Cattelan announced his retirement from art as the retrospective opened. The app features one of the projects he’ll be focusing on instead: his new magazine, Toilet Paper. 

Inside it there are, as John Waters says, “no words, just impeccably stylish pictures of murder, suicide, cross-dressing nuns shooting up, and girls who get off by licking doorknobs.” Looking at the magazines, I began to understand Peter Schjeldahl’s indictment a little better, but I still enjoyed them.

Maud Newton