CLOÉ PERRONE A few years ago, you announced you would stop producing artworks and so you did. What role do you claim for yourself now in contemporary art? And within the specific frame of this collaboration with Gucci on the exhibition “The Artist Is Present,” would you describe yourself as a curator or else?
MAURIZIO CATTELAN At the beginning of your career, you care a lot about labels and what people call you—an artist, a genius, a photographer, a curator, a prankster, a designer—and everything sounds as a misrepresentation of your intentions. Over the years, I came to the conclusion that every label can fit me just fine, as I’m changing and questioning myself every day, and there are countless possible interpretations. The very essence of things is in what you make out of them, it’s a question of role-playing. So what I can say is that I’m playing the curator’s role successfully if the show has an impact on the viewer, makes you feel uncomfortable and allows you to change your perspective.
CP The exhibition explores how repetition can lead to originality, and how originals can be preserved through copies. In ancient Rome, the sculptors would replicate Greek statues; in Renaissance studios, the apprentices reproduced the paintings of Great Masters. Before becoming an inventor, it was necessary to excel in being a copier. What you to the notions of appropriation, copy and originality for this project?
MC To copy is a declaration of pure love. Think for example of all the football fans wearing the same jerseys worn on the field by their favorite players. Or recently, a perfect replica of the Sistine Chapel has been touring around Latin America. The culture of copying, or, let’s say, of perpetual (re)creation, is part of a context where revolutionary discontinuities and the idea of a then-time opposed to a now-time, is replaced by a continuum in which today is nothing but yesterday reprocessed, changed and transformed. We temporarily abdicated this vision in favor of a culture which foregrounded property and copyright as essential features for a capitalistic society, and relegated reproduction to a mere conservation technique. But you can feel this change under your thumb every time you click on the “share” icon. That’s the starting point for the show.
CP In China, the value given to the singularity of an object, which is especially intrinsic to the work of art, appears to have a different meaning than in Western culture. Imitation, copying and counterfeit don’t mean a lack of uniqueness, but rather play an equivalent role to the original. How did your recent trips to China affect your research?
MC Being in touch with the Far Eastern culture has confirmed what I always thought: the original is a thing of the imagination, and the quest for originality is hopeless. The cultural difference is especially evident when you think of monuments preservation in the Western culture, where the museumization of past glories goes hand-in-hand with the rise of tourism and the radical changes of industrial revolution. I find much more fascinating the Far Eastern model, where nature provides the example: every living organism renews itself through continual cell replacement. We’re all replicas of ourselves, in the end, and identity is always transforming.
CP The worlds of fashion and art intertwine more and more frequently, feeding off one another. Increasingly, the fashion industry offers platforms and budgets to artists, while on the other hand, the art system seems to increasingly borrow a “seasonal” approach from fashion shows and collections—often originating a short circuit with the artists’ creative and production process. What was your experience curating a show in collaboration with one of today’s most influential designers, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele?
MC It’s undeniable that in recent years, with the art market spreading like wildfire and art becoming more and more of a status symbol, the increasing demand has lead to an accelerating turnover— and that comes with a certain degree of superficiality. But it doesn’t mean that art has lost its aura—the ideas that spring from it are free and for everyone, perhaps now more widely accessible than ever. Something similar happened with this project: like an avalanche, it started small and slow and quickly grew out of our control. Hopefully the audience will sense these ideas permeating the exhibition.