When in NYC, see Maurizio Cattelan at the Guggenheim | Bleader

When in NYC, see Maurizio Cattelan at the Guggenheim

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If you get to New York any time before January 22, 2012, go to the Guggenheim Museum and see the Maurizio Cattelan retrospective, "All." You shouldn't have any trouble figuring out where they've hung it—just go inside and look up. The entire show is suspended like a cluster of grapes from cables in the hallowed, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed atrium. Visitors explore it by walking up or down the Guggenheim's stories-high spiral ramp.

You may remember Cattelan from his 2006 show here, at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Titled "Him," it consisted of a white-walled gallery room, empty except for a boy kneeling before the wall farthest from the entrance. The boy appeared to be, say, ten years old and was wearing what probably constituted Sunday best in turn-of-the-19th-century Bavaria: a gray tweed suit with knickers, hose, and ankle-high leather shoes (not unlike the costumes for the Broadway musical Spring Awakening). You saw him from behind as you walked in. He was very still but very real—I didn't know that he was part of an installation when I first saw him and remember approaching cautiously, worried about what I might be disturbing . . . or getting into. Finally coming up even with him, I saw that he was a waxwork. But that wasn't the surprise. The surprise was that he had the mature face and mustache of Adolf Hitler. It was a moment of shock similar to the one in the great 1973 Nicolas Roeg thriller, Don't Look Now, when the little girl in the red raincoat turns out to be a homicidal dwarf.

The Hitler child is hanging from the Guggenheim ceiling, as are 127 other works ranging back to 1989, including several taxidermied farm animals and a skeletal house cat the size of a tyrannosaurus rex. Cattelan is known as an art world trickster and provocateur who habitually plays with incongruity—many of his jokes are displayed here. Some—like his extra-long shopping cart titled Less Than Ten Items, his life-size cow with scooter handles for horns,his picture of Picasso stuck in a Roy Lichtenstein living room, and his granite monument incised with soccer scores as if they were the names of war dead—are just plain funny. Others can be disturbing. An image of two human arms posed in prayer as they poke from empty ground takes on darker resonances the more you look at it. So does La Nona Ora, Cattelan's 1999 sculpture of Pope John Paul II lying prone in full ritual regalia with what appears to be a meteor pressing down on his legs. As originally presented, La Nona Ora included a scattering of broken glass, suggesting the trajectory of the meteor.

But "All" also demonstrates Cattelan's enormous skill as a visual storyteller—and enhances that skill by at once forcing and allowing us to circle each piece as we move along the Guggenheim ramp. I loved -74.4000.000, which shows a doll-size Cattelan sitting atop a big, white office safe, seemingly contemplating the drop to the floor. As we come around the left side of the safe on our way up the ramp, we see that a big hole has been cut in its side. Immediately, dozens of scenarios present themselves, all of them intriguing, none of them conclusive.

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