Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Unsettler

Sometimes you just don't give a middle finger to the sky
Maurizio Cattelan

"Look into my eyes...Don't tell me...." That song! You know...
Maurizio Cattelan

The dream is to sit down, one day, someday with Maurizio Cattelan. Talk to him. Ask him "What are you doing?" Ask him more questions 'till I hated the sound of my own voice and hated myself for asking too much. I'm not yet a fan though since it takes more to make a fan out of ones self, but I'd like to believe I am a step closer to reaching an idea of what he does and why he does it.

The question is, is it art? This is one of the best reasons why I miss school. While you're already too busy asking a lot in your life, you actually pay for more prodding and questioning and studying to do. And then you ask yourself "Why the hell do we subject ourselves to such crap when life could be sitting down and drinking something cold?" I am, deep down, not one to settle, especially when I know that life is no "sit down and a cold drink in hand". I may be more passive than aggressive, but I do yearn for things beyond, wherever, whatever, whoever I am now, so yes, I'd love to subject myself to the"crap" that we call learning. And this post I am writing will definitely make for an intense and inspiring 3-hour class for my Visual Arts or Arts Theory subjects back in college with people who love these things.

(I've side tracked too far) So are Maurizio Cattelan's works art? They are showing now at the Guggenheim I think, so to an extent it is art, correct? Well, you could debate about it. I for one have limited knowledge of art and if you asked me, I'd honestly still give Cattelan's works days or weeks to thoroughly study them. The complicated thing is, you have so many categories to consider if something is a work of art. And as I am no expert, I could only give you lots of personal thoughts on his works, that will hopefully shed us all some light on Cattelan's genius.

The great thing I love about Cattelan: if there is one thing he does best, it's unsettling people. I don't think there has ever been a work of art (or works of art) that has made me cringe, nauseated, laugh, go pale and palpitate all at the same time than a Cattelan. And to think I haven't seen the real thing. His works all have that same feeling they leave after the image slowly burns in your memory. I could only compare it to a hyper acidic attack. The kind that probably takes two pieces of Tums to ease. I like it! Not the hyperacidity, but the emotions that a Cattelan brings. I wouldn't buy a piece, even if I had the money, but I'd happily hop on a train to catch an exhibit, assuming I'm living somewhere near a gallery showing it.

A horse jumping headless into a wall, a dead squirrel flat on his kitchen table, Hitler kneeling on the floor, a donkey suspended from a real baroque ceiling, windows burning for, probably forever, I mean, these are just a pinch of his works and in a rough description alone, you're most probably shaking your heads. And I like it!

I've been used to art being all technically pretty (you know, Classic standards), like Monet paintings or sculptures from Roman times and they're all so perfect and right. Of course, all the time art should be beautiful, but there are also  times when art holds its own kind of beauty, beauty in the sense that it draws you in, makes you think and feel and leaves you reacting instead of the usual "Oh it's so beautiful". If you give me a white piece of paper and call it art, I'd give it a slim, slim chance of calling it one, but in the end I'd only believe that it's making a statement instead of making art. Cattelan may be making a statement, but for me his works qualify as art too cause they have so much layer and depth, giving them their own kind of beauty.

Maurizio's mini me
His slightly twisted visions and subtle humor present you things both familiar and strange. Dissect the elements or pieces of his works and you know what they are like you're picking them out from a children's book of animals, numbers, colors, whatever. But when they're married together unconventionally and placed in spaces that either repel them or compliment them, it makes some kind of sense. It's the unsettling feeling, that feeling of seeing things incredibly familiar yet incredibly off as well that makes it so magnetic and powerful. It's also the silence that it wears, those seemingly quiet yet living figures that he uses that makes you want to jump in fear seeing them bleed or move or blink.

For most people in a conservative culture, they'd probably raise hell over the sight of hanging people on tree branches or the dear, iconic Pope John Paul II struck by a meteor and I completely understand them. Some of his works I honestly think are too controversial and to some point, offensive, but when I look at them and study them well, they tell stories that happen in some parallel universe that exists, that somehow they're not there to offend, but to probably show something real. It's the deviation from the pretty, the perfect, the conventional to things that are only imaginable when something like "What will happen if..." statements are raised. It's also plausible to say that some of this works are mockeries of tradition or existing things that we think highly of, but it's also part of his work's charm. What he does is tickles what's already there until he makes it laugh and bursts into other things that are potentials or "could be"s that we're all pretty apprehensive to face.

Unsettling as they all seem, the reason why I am falling in love with Cattelan's works is because for me they situate you in a possibility of a different real time and real sense.There are moments when I feel like it's too blase to strive for the familiar, the "ideal" or for things I've already seen beautiful and during these times I'd gladly physically go and get lost in some place where it's only familiar because it exists, not because I've been there before. And in this different, existing place, it's safe and alright to build something and make things anew.  It is scary, but just like Cattelan's works, it gives you a sense of safety and somewhat a chance, that while the suspended donkeys and white masked elephants aren't truly real, you could make it real somewhere, sometime. Cattelan unsettles and shakes you up from where you are now and gives you a venue and a"could be" of new things and new perspectives. For me, he opens doors and teases you to go through it even when you're not accustomed or a tiny bit familiar with it. And I've realized, after all of that, that I've said this much without having seen the actual works...My, my, my...What art does to people.

That poor donkey

Yup, it's Linda!

The dizzying suspended works of Cattelan at the Guggenheim

- Gerard

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