The Pope Struck by a Meteorite and Hitler Brought to His Knees: Maurizio Cattelan, the Post-Modernist Debunker of Contemporary Problems

The Pope Struck by a Meteorite and Hitler Brought to His Knees: Maurizio Cattelan, the Post-Modernist Debunker of Contemporary Problems

In December 2019, visitors to the Art Basel fair in Miami Beach witnessed a strange spectacle: a man in a dark blue shirt plucked and ate a banana taped to the gallery wall. It became clear that this was not the manifestation of the blatant naivety of an accidental simpleton, but rather a planned artistic performance. The banana eater was also an artist named David Datuna, and he was well aware that he was destroying a work of art that had already sold for $120,000.

Created by Maurizio Cattelan, the installation consisted entirely of a banana, a scotch tape, and a wall. The Italian artist has repeatedly turned the world of contemporary art upside down. He began his creative career in the late 1980s, having previously tried his hand at a wide range of professional activities. He has even been a sperm donor. This fact of his biography is reflected in the installation “Spermini”, which consists of dozens of small latex self-portraits. A few years ago, this work could be seen in Moscow at the exhibition “Collection of Foundation Louis Vuitton” at The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.

It was in the mid-1990s that Cattelan became truly famous. In 1996, he created an installation: a stuffed squirrel sitting on a chair with its head resting on the kitchen table. There was a gun near the squirrel’s hind legs and an empty glass in the middle of the table. It is even surprising that this work, which is all about extreme despair, was made by an Italian artist. In the Italian language, there is no associative connection between a glass, a cute animal, and the total personal degradation they cause. A particular cynicism was to be found in the title of the work: Bidibidobidiboo, a series of sounds consonant with the magic of the fairy godmother in the old Disney cartoon about Cinderella — a story of social advancement, not the other way around.

At the end of 2000, Cattelan caused a huge scandal. The Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw was planning an exhibition to show the changes in Polish art during the 20th century. The organizers invited Cattelan to participate with his work “The Ninth Hour”. The name referred to the time of Christ’s death as accepted in Christian tradition, and the installation itself was a hyper-realistic sculpture of Pope John Paul II nailed to the floor by a large meteorite. According to the artist, the meteorite was meant to symbolize the pope’s burden of concern for the world. However, John Paul II was still alive at the time. He was a Pole and the first non-Italian to be elected head of the Catholic Church in about half a millennium. His countrymen, who regarded John Paul II as a national hero, did not see in Cattelan’s work an art full of complex and contradictory allusions. Someone put flowers on the sculpture, someone tried to cover it with a white sheet so as not to confuse the exhibition’s visitors. As the Polish media wrote, a conservative politician even tried to remove a stone from the image of the Pope, accidentally tearing off his leg. One may assume that the attempts to intercede for John Paul II were just the addition to this whole macabre show.

These adventures have not deterred Cattelan from further experiments with the Polish public. In 2012, he exhibited the sculpture “HIM” …