From Wife Trophies to Dead Horses: Maurizio Cattelan’s Best Sculptures

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Controversial, thoughtful, hilarious. Italian-born, New York-based artist Maurizio Cattelan, known for his hyper-realistic sculpture pranks and generally stirring things up, is currently showing all of his work in a new “anti-retrospective” at the Guggenheim. No, really, it’s basically all there. Maurizio Cattelan: All features more than 130 of his provocative works hanging in the middle of the Wright-designed rotunda, tied up into a giant, swinging heap. If you get a chance, you should take a closer look in person before January 22. In the meantime, here are our favorite pieces created by the purportedly retiring artist — from the pathetic Hitler to the meteorite-stricken Pope to the trophy of a trophy wife. See some of Cattelan’s best pranks in our gallery.

Cattelan’s comedic La Nona Ora (1999) was vandalized in Poland in 2001, presumably because it’s (GASP!) blasphemous. A realistic wax sculpture of Pope John Paul II lies prostate mid-ceremony, crushed by a meteorite, perhaps symbolizing the figurehead’s un-divine-like humanity in the face of nature.

When big deal publishing magnate and art collector Peter Brant commissioned Cattelan to make a sculpture of his supermodel wife Stephanie Seymour, the artist got inspired by the hunting trophies in Brant’s home and delivered … the trophy wife’s portrait as a wife trophy, Stephanie (2003). Oh, burn. Cattelan also made it an edition of three, so other men could “own” Stephanie. Oh, double burn.

Not only is Cattelan’s Untitled (2007) horse a reverse hunting trophy, it’s a parody of Art History’s equestrian theme. A “valiant” leap “thwarted!” For some of us, this is the perfect metaphor for creativity itself.

Speaking of subversion of monuments, Cattelan erected this giant marble monument in front of the Italian Stock Exchange, with a few fingers strategically broken off. Originally entitled Omnia Munda Mundis (“to the pure [men], all things [are] pure”), the L.O.V.E. monument is… a giant marble middle finger, taunting financial gurus.

Everyone wanted to work with superstar Cattelan. He’s made gallerists costume up as lions, rabbits, and penises for his openings, just because he could. For A Perfect Day, Cattelan actually taped his gallerist Massimo De Carlo to the wall of the exhibit for the duration of the evening. De Carlo was rushed to the hospital after suffering from a shortage of oxygen. Untitled (1999) is a realistic replica.

Cattelan decided to subvert one of history’s greatest villains by making him look like a little praying child — as in God’s child — from the back. From the front, it’s Hitler alright. At the Guggenheim, Him (2001) is strung up with rope, knees still tucked as if in rigor mortis, still praying for that absolution from evil. Cattelan says he’s resisted the urge to smash this one.

Untitled (2007) was inspired by one of Francesca Woodman’s haunting self-portraits wherein the young photographer suspends herself Christlike in a doorway. Cattelan was deeply affected by her work and her suicide at 22. It was a direct replica, but once Cattelan saw the way his sculpture was shipped for transport — restrained, face down, as if imprisoned and tortured — Cattelan decided to leave it like that for future exhibits. A martyr.

In 1998, Cattelan created a Pablo Picasso disguise and took New York, signing autographs, taking photos, and commenting on the glorification of celebrity artists by formal institutions. As you might expect, he had a damn good time with it.

In the early 1990s, Cattelan assembled a soccer team of North African immigrants, sponsored by a fictional company called “Rauss” (from the Nazi slogan “get out”) and infiltrated the Bologna Art Fair with the team peddling their memorabilia. He then staged Stadium, a foosball game in a gallery, pitting his team against a group of all white North Italians. And that’s how you comment on xenophobia.

Spermini (1997) features hundreds of cartoonish self-portrait latex masks, in different hues. As his creative mission was always to penetrate the real world with his artistic creations, this is the ultimate parody of that desire. He is his work, an ejaculate of his creative ambition. And there he is, there he is, there he is, there he is…