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Suicide Squirrel, Struck Pope: Interview With Maurizio Cattelan

Maurizio Cattelan
Maurizio Cattelan. In addition to making art, Cattelan, 51, also collects works by fellow artists. Photographer: Pierpaolo Ferrari/Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation via Bloomberg

Pope John Paul II killed off by a meteorite is probably the most famous work by Maurizio Cattelan. But there’s plenty more to gape at now that his retrospective has opened at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

“Maurizio Cattelan: All” -- as the show is titled -- also offers a dead, giant Pinocchio floating face down and a diorama depicting a squirrel that has committed suicide at a break-room table.

We met in the lobby of his apartment building in Chelsea and strolled around the neighborhood. Wearing jeans, sneakers, an aqua sweater and a light jacket, the Italian-born Cattelan, 51, was periodically distracted by squirrels, abandoned shoes and homeless people.

Tarmy: Has this retrospective made you think differently about your art?

Cattelan: No. The bad work has always been bad work for me and for everybody else. Good work has always been good work. This installation doesn’t hide anything, so whatever is bad is still bad.

Tarmy: No surprises?

Cattelan: Yes, I was surprised. In a good way -- it could have been really bad. Personally I was impressed but what I think doesn’t count. In the end, the final word is from the audience and critics. I’m the one who prepares the meal, and then other people eat it.

Tarmy: You actually care about the opinion of the audience and critics?

Cattelan: Sure, I care. I don’t do a work for myself. I don’t need to do a work for myself.

Pope Piece

Tarmy: Your sculpture “La Nona Ora” of Pope John Paul II hit by a meteorite seems to have pride of place in the exhibition. How did you come up with it?

Cattelan: When I conceived of the sculpture it was going to be respectful. It was going to be an exhibit made up of an empty room with a statue of the pope welcoming you.

But then a month before the show I was like: Oh my God, this is so bad, I can’t show it. So I modified it.

When I cut the figure apart I had to use a chain saw. I asked everybody to leave the room because I couldn’t cut it with people around. Even if I was damaging it, I was dealing with someone who needed to be treated with respect.

Undervalued, Overvalued

Tarmy: Do you know the people who buy your art?

Cattelan: No. I’ve had a few occasions to meet collectors, but there are very few I want to see more than once.

Tarmy: Do you think that there’s logic to the art market?

Cattelan: The market is like a machine that needs to be constantly excited. It needs to constantly produce wealth and more excitement. There are some leading players who are always there before everyone else, and they set market trends, they make people safe about the excitement. Of course, those who buy it first are the first to drop it. It’s an ongoing game.

Tarmy: Will it ever end?

Cattelan: Not as long as there is money.

Tarmy: Do you collect art?

Cattelan: Sometimes I like to support other artists, yes.

Tarmy: Who are some undervalued artists?

Cattelan: Philippe Calandre. And Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, they’re the fathers of minimalism and you can have an important work of theirs from the ‘60s or ‘70s for not much.

Tarmy: So do you own a Donald Judd?

Cattelan: No. He’s too expensive for me.

Tarmy: Which artists do you think are overvalued?

Cattelan: Myself.

Tarmy: I’ve heard you are retiring from making art?

Cattelan: I want to close a period of animals and dummies. I didn’t say I’m not going to do other art. What comes next will be a surprise even to myself.

“All” is at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, through Jan. 22, 2012. Information:

(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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