Giancarlo Politi and the readers of Flash Art
KILLING ME SOFTLY - A conversation with Maurizio Cattelan
Maurizio Cattelan: Untitled, 2000. Life-size figure, table, chair, pasta plate. Installation at CCA Kitakyushu, Japan.
LIFE: A USER’S MANUAL
Karl J. Volk, New York: I am afraid that I do not know who Maurizio Cattelan is.
I would like to know who he is.
Maurizio Cattelan: A lazy overachiever running downhill.
Patrick Prince, San Diego: How was your life before you became a successful artist?
Cattelan: I was a loser, most concerned with making a living. It took me 30 years to understand
that if I was a failure it wasn’t my fault. I had to reinvent a system, find a way out, and set some
rules that could work for me and a few others.I guess in the end that’s what we all are trying to do.
Santini del prete, Rosignano Marittimo, Italy: What’s the difference between an artist and a
railwayman (or two)?
Cattelan: Not much. Both try to arrive on time, and when things don’t work, it’s always due to a
Joop van Allen, Amsterdam: How do you manage your daily life?
Cattelan: I’m quite maniacal and repetitive. I free myself from anything that can disturb me.
I try not to own anything.
Dirk Böckler, Cologne: What should an artist do to become successful?
Cattelan: I don’t have any recipes, also because I don’t think I did anything special.
Just try to become someone else.
HOME SWEET HOME
Andrea Contin, Padova, Italy : Tito Livio, the great Paduan historian from the time of
Augustus, was accused of being provincial by his contemporaries.
Cattelan: The province is a corner of the world. It’s not that bad. I like corners;
I feel safer when I’ve got my back against the wall.
Claudio Sichel, Caselle di Selvazzano, Italy: How much has the Paduan art scene of
the ’80s influenced your work?
Cattelan: I don’t believe in scenes or groups. Besides, in Padua I was taking evening classes
to become an electrician. There wasn’t much time for art.
Martine Deny, Luxembourg: What attracted you to art?
Cattelan: I got to art via trial and error. Maybe it was simply the last port of call.
They accepted me, with my doubts, my fears, and I think that made the difference.
Maurizio Cattelan: Live donkey, crystal chandelier, dimensions variable.
The artist installing the work at Daniel Newburg Gallery, New York.
Photo: Bertucci. Courtesy of the artist.
WE ARE TOO MANY
Alberto Magrin, Borghetto, Italy: Do you think you’ve ever had a child, or better, ever
created an artwork?
Cattelan: I have never been a father, but I’ve had many children by fission and multiplication.
Maybe that’s why I like puppets and self-portraits. They are a little army of kids, but with
dangerous, adult minds.
Samuel Bryson, London: For many years on the occasion of public appearances you
have sent Massimiliano Gioni in your place with the purpose of impersonating you.
How did this personality-splitting game start, and what significance do you give to it?
Cattelan: We haven’t split, just multiplied. For me there’s no secret meaning or deceit
behind this gesture; it’s just a way to solve a problem. I don’t know how to talk in public,
so someone else can go and do it better. And when Massimiliano answers, he also copies,
recycles, and invents. The fact is that I am terribly scared of boredom. To hear someone else
describe your work is always a surprise. And I think people need more doubts and fewer
Sonja Wessel, Vienna: Who’s answering now? You? Someone else? Massimiliano Gioni?
Cattelan: The answer is inside of you, and it’s wrong.
Maurizio Cattelan: Charlie, 2003. Resin, rubber, human hair, electric
engine, battery, remote control unit, life size.
Courtesy of Marian Goodman, New York.
COME AS YOU ARE
Susan Kendzulak, Taipei: Why?
Cattelan: Because I can’t do anything else.
Stéphane Ollivier, France: For you, what is the aim of art today?
Cattelan: The word ‘aim’ makes me think of shooting a gun. I’m not so interested in targets
or aims. I prefer mistakes.
Carla Roncato, Milan: What were you thinking about when you hammered the hands of the
kid [in Charlie Don’t Surf, 1997] to his school desk?
Cattelan: I was wondering what hurts more: a pencil through a hand or failing first grade.
Roberto Scala, Massa Lubrense, Italy: Today why don’t you think about making an artwork
on Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or George W. Bush?
Cattelan: I’m not really interested in individuals. I’m interested in mass fears and hysteria.
With all due respect, Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Bush are still just people, not yet symbols.
Bruno Pierozzi, Italy: What are you capable of, besides conceptualizing?
Cattelan: I’m not that good at conceptualizing either. I’m interested in images, and little matters
whether they are mine or someone else’s.
Bettina Funcke, New York: What was the most intriguing copyright problem you ran into during
your career as an artist?
Cattelan: I’ve never really had any trouble, also because I’m not the kind of person who steals
or copies systematically. In the end we are all part of the same digestive system, and each one
of us consumes images and ideas however we want, spitting them out completely transformed.
Many things I did have been chewed and digested by others. What matters is to assimilate the
right quantity of calories. Taste is not so crucial.
Helen Ruth, Minneapolis: What’s art useful for?
Cattelan: If I knew, I’d be a collector.
Carlo Piemonti, Gorizia, Italy: Is art possible today without marketing?
Cattelan: And life without death? Nothing is necessary, but everything is useful.
Autumn Rooney, Brooklyn: Did anyone in particular, artist or otherwise, have an influence on
you before you established yourself in the art world?
Cattelan: I try to learn from everyone, really. Being self-taught can be an advantage.
You don’t have debts to pay. You have no professor, and everyone becomes a classmate.
Matthieu Laurette, Paris: What is your favorite art work? Who is you favorite artist?
Cattelan: Names change continuously; it’s impossible to make charts. Warhol is maybe the name
that comes back more often, but in his hands even dying seemed chic.
Maurizio Cattelan: Family Syntax, 1989. Mixed media 140 x 60 x 130. Photo: Fabbri.
Courtesy of Massimo De Carlo, Milan.
Maurizio Cattelan: Betsy, 2002. Wax dummy, polyester resin, natural hair, clothes,
refrigerator, life size. Photo: Attilio Maranzano. Courtesy of Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris
DEATH BECOMES HER
Teresa Goltieri, Italy: What do you think of death? Is it an end or a beginning?
MCCattelan: It’s an exclamation mark. It gives sense to everything but takes away
Holly Golightly, New York: For Blanchot the corpse shows what hides in words
and images: being present and elsewhere at the same moment. Is this the game you
play between reality and fiction?
Cattelan: I dealt with corpses, real ones, when I worked in a morgue, and they seemed so
Maybe it’s all that job’s fault, but when I think of a sculpture, I always imagine it like that,
far away,in some way already dead. It has always surprised me when people laugh at
some of my art works; maybe in front of death laughter is a spontaneous reaction.
Jorge Ferrero, Barcelona: Does your art perform a service for society?
Cattelan: I have no idea, and I don’t even have much ambition to contribute to a dialogue a
bout humanity. I don’t feel I fit in the hero’s role. I’m just a loudspeaker, or maybe a sponge.
I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more provocative or ruthless than what I see around me
Andrea Abbatangelo, Terni, Italy: What are the principles and the state of mind
necessary for you, and for contemporary art in general, to face the new millennium
without deluding expectations, dreams, and new utopias?
Cattelan: At the moment it seems like it’s a matter of hope and fear. And modesty.
Or maybe we are just back to the basics.
Topylabrys: For years I have been working with plastic materials and food as material.
I’d like to know what you think about using such materials for producing art?
Cattelan: No, thanks, I’ll just have a coffee.
THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES
Genco Gülan, Istanbul: How are you?
Cattelan: Quite tired, indeed.
Katia Ceccarelli, Milan: What was the last present you gave to yourself?
Cattelan: A dental prosthesis.
Martina Rapaggi, London: Do you often laugh on your own?
Cattelan: No, not much. I can’t do much on my own. It seems that the most interesting
things happen when there are at least two or three people in the same room.
Brad Darling, Montreal: What is your take on zombies?
Cattelan: They just make me angry when they show up for dinner uninvited.
Andrew Eyman: Where do you see yourself today? And what about in 20, 50, 100
years?Is it a goal of yours to be remembered and considered an important artist of
Cattelan:It would already be a good result to be remembered at the end of the year.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it will last that long, and maybe it’s not that important.
I try to make a contribution to the present.
Angel Rock, Chicago: What relationship do you have with money?
Cattelan: I have a strange relationship with money. I’m almost scared of it, and I
have forced myself to live as though nothing really changed.
Of course, money is a great vehicle for communication, probably even more effective
than religion. But then it is not so important how much money you have, but how and
where the money goes.