Maurizio Cattelan @ Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Gallery presents the first instalment of a series of exhibitions with works of contemporary art courtesy of the Collection Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. The current show comprises of works by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan.

Cattelan’s work is well-attested for its controversial and satirical nature. However, if you expect an exhibition similar to the scale of his 2011 Guggenheim retrospective you might feel slightly let down this time. The Whitechapel exhibition entails eight pieces from Cattelan’s earlier career, all organised in a medium sized room. To the untrained eye some of the exhibited sculptures may simply seem of playful and decorative character but a closer study of the artist’s connotations deciphers a deeper context involving his country of origin and his remarks on social issues, religion and politics. Amongst the exhibited works, the logo of Italian terrorist group Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) has been ‘rebranded’ into a Christmas Bethlehem star neon light (‘Christmas ’95’, 1995) while a pile of rubble in a large sack (‘Lullaby’, 1994) placed nearby comes from a gallery in Milan that was blown up by the Mafia in 1993. Probably the highlight of the show by many, ‘Bidibidobidiboo’ (1996), is a tiny crime scene installation featuring a taxidermied squirrel having committed suicide with the gun lying on a kitchen floor. Apparently the setting resembles a kitchen the artist was familiar with during his childhood. Opposite, a mini version of Cattelan in a Joseph Beuys type felt suit (‘La rivoluzione siamo noi’, 2000) is dangling from a coat hanger powerless and unable to react.

Although the volume of Cattelan’s work on show here is not large, the Whitechapel exhibition gives the public an opportunity to appreciate some rarely seen pieces in the UK from his earlier career and follow his visual vocabulary through a ‘sampling’ or a ‘teaser’ show. His stuffed squirrel represents the period from 1995 onwards encompassing taxidermied animals and moving onto creating wax effigies of people (including himself); the most famous being ‘LaNona Ora’ (1999) a life size statue of Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2000 and auctioned by Christie’s the following year. His artistic style utilises not only recurring key issues from the social and political realms but also puts religion and art in the spotlight imbued with caustic humour and provocative annotations. And this show efficaciously demonstrates the cycle of an artist who began his career two decades ago producing modest thought-provoking works and retired with a grand retrospective in 2011. Kostas Prapoglou

Dr Achim Borchardt-Hume chief curator at Whitechapel Gallery and head of exhibitions at Tate Modern talked to REVma -/+ about the show:

REVma -/+: What led to the decision of presenting Maurizio Cattelan in this first display of the series by Collection Sandretto Re Rebaudengo?
A.B.H.: We decided to start the series of displays with Maurizio Cattelan as many of the works have not been seen in the UK before and contain a number of central themes which relate to the following displays throughout the year.

REVma -/+: What is the reason for including only earlier works of the artist?
A.B.H.: The display includes works from 1991-2009 with a focus on his earlier intimate works. Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo collected the work of Maurizio Cattelan early in his career.

REVma -/+: The current display is the first in a series of four, concluding in September 2013. Will we be seeing more similar presentations by the same or other collections after that?
A.B.H.: The series of four displays will all show highlights from the Collection Sandretto Re Rebaudengo as part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s programme of opening up collections that are rarely seen by the public in the UK. Each display centres on a particular theme, such as a series of works focused around Charles Ray’s sculpture ‘Viral Research’ (1986), a display focused on portraiture and the construction of identity which includes works by Pawel Althamer and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, or the final display which looks at the idea of the absurd and features Paola Pivi’s large polar bear covered in yellow feathers.