A Day at the Guggenheim

"Maurizio Cattelan: All" at the Guggenheim. Photo Credit: David Heald.

On a chilly Sunday afternoon in December, I decided to indulge my curiosity regarding advertisements that had appeared on the subway featuring a man hanging by his clothes on a coat rack of sorts.

The advertisements were for Maurizio Cattelan‘s exhibition: “Maurizio Cattelan: All.”  I found the title to be a bit vague out of context, and I did not understand why such a title would be chosen until I arrived at the exhibit itself. There to greet me was a giant installation of sculpted art that hung from the oculus of the museum.  According to the mobile platform application that accompanies the exhibit, the massive hanging installation “is comprised of every piece of art that Maurizio Cattelan has ever made.” That, along with the fact that Cattelan has announced his retirement from the art world alongside the unveiling of this exhibition, makes “All” a more than fitting title.

The unique architecture of the Guggenheim makes it the perfect place for Cattelan’s work to be displayed. The giant web of sculpted art fills the entire space, and stretches all the way from the bottom floor to the top, with a dead horse a mere few feet above patrons on the ground floor.  From an absurdly elongated pool table placed in the middle of the colossal hanging pillar-web of art, to a tree placed in a cube of dirt near the ground floor, “All” comprises a broad spectrum of Cattelan’s installation work, and is bound together by horse-themed art installations as well as Tourists, the original form of which is comprised of pigeons sitting in the rafters of the gallery it was displayed in. These pigeons now reside on the art itself, and can be found everywhere within the sculpture, cleverly placed on the gigantic metal framework.

After taking the time to browse the iPhone application at one of the “App Stations” throughout the museum, I took another look at the installation and thought, “there’s no way this could possibly be EVERY piece of art this man has ever made!” What really convinced me was one of the books that was written on the exhibit, which is also placed in sets of two around the museum’s walking spiral. There are actual over one hundred installations included in the sculpture, and when you take into account that his installations often included more than one piece of art, the number of total pieces skyrockets.

However, the most mind-blowing part is simply the presentation. Many of the pieces seemed incredibly heavy, and yet looked so delicate while hanging by white cords from the metal framework above. I believe that the white chord that was chosen to hang the pieces of art was a deliberate choice, as it forces one to walk along the spiral in order to view all of the pieces. It also adds an extra level to the work, and makes it feel much more intricate and otherworldly. It also establishes a firm base for the works as one single installation, and not hundreds of art pieces cobbled together. Everything feels as if it came together, cosmically, instead of being cobbled together. It is a feast for the eyes in several ways.

The side galleries at the Guggenheim were quite interesting as well. There were two sets of galleries devoted to pop-art, a gallery devoted to a private collection of classical art (which even presented two works by Picasso, as well as a Van Gogh work), a gallery comprised of flat color works, and a gallery focused on a single work called Painting with White Border, which was in many ways the 2-Dimensional version of “All”. The entire painting is a compilation of abstract motifs of various paintings done by the artist who created White Border, with a milky-white wave surrounding half of the painting, much as the spiral of the Guggenheim surrounds “All”.

All in all (pun intended), the Guggenheim has presented yet another compelling set of works. Although there are works in the side-galleries that I would love to describe, I can only say that with all great works of art, from massive installations to fifteen-inch paintings, seeing is believing.

“Maurizio Cattelan: All” will be on display until January 22, 2012.  Get your 2-for-$5 Guggenheim passes now through High 5!