The co-founder of Toilet Paper magazine, artist Maurizio Cattelan has stayed active in the art circuit after announcing his “retirement” as an artist in 2011. His recent project Made in Catteland invades museum gift shops with “Museum League”, a scarf collection dedicated to major museums around the world. Here Maurizio introduces his current practices and shares his thoughts on the changing role of museums in the current era.
In museum stores around the world recently we have begun to see these “Museum League” scarves. Can you introduce the project and how you came to the idea? What makes the museum store an interesting space to intervene in for you?
It all started from the consideration that museums are becoming places where the sense of community, the process of identification, passion and faith take place. Everyone has his/her favorite, the one where he/she feels at home, the one he/she wants to support and share with others. I do not think it is very far from the sense of belonging that the supporters feel at the stadium. After decades hanging around the art world, today I must admit that I find much more art in spots you’d least suspect: it is in all the spaces to be reconquered and in the formats to be reinvented. As happened with the Biennial of the Caribbean or Permanent Food or Charley, up to The Wrong Gallery, founded with Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick, we felt the need to affirm that good art does not necessarily need much space. We looked for a way, ironic and critical at the same time, to subvert a format, to undermine a standard. In the same way with Museum League, Made in Catteland tries to redesign the shape of museum gift shops, to re-establish them starting from the name. They are places crossed by the same art audience, but, in most cases, they have nothing to do with the museum and its contents. Visitors are forced to pass us as if they were in a gas station shop, without a link with the experience they have just had in front of the works. Why shouldn’t the shops be part of the aesthetic experience? Why leave the artists and works outside the last room of the building? It may seem like a heretical question, but I believe that in a museum art should stay right up to the exit door to the road.
One of the hot topics for the art media last year was the entertainment-ification of museums ("Big Fun," among other things). What do you make of the fact that museums are becoming a social and community institution rather than an educational or academic one?
I believe we should stop speaking entertainment versus education. It’s misleading: they are two sides of the same coin, which is experience. We cannot fight entertainment through education, or vice versa. Our experience could be superficial or deep, depending on the tools we’re given to understand what we’re confronted with. Of course, the internet, and particularly social networks, have changed how we are informed, to know the word and inhabit it. But this is where we are now, and any resistance is futile: museums need to be visited and artists’ works need to be seen. Think of Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project in the Tate Turbine Hall: it was 2003 (the first iPhone is 2007!), and it was already a place of worship, like Stonehenge. So many people visited it, and the majority had nothing to do with the art world. But they felt they had to be there, even without Instagram to testify. It’s all about the audience, more than the black mirror they may hold in their hands.
What else does Made in Catteland have in the works?
With Stefano Seletti we agreed on a simple principle, borrowed from an old statement by Beuys: “Everyone can be a collector.” Thus, we started thinking of 15 prototypes of my works produced on a smaller scale than the original, and they’ll be part of Made in Catteland project. As for Wrong Gallery, I believe that the strength of an idea does not change according to how great the work is. I'm interested in demonstrating that even in a pocket size, the same ideas or works can be packed and spread in everyone's homes.
After you retired from art, why is it important to keep the Cattelan brand visible for you?
As everyone, I’m constantly negotiating my identity, and upgrading must be every time faster. Personally, I know my limits: for some time now I cannot see my work in dialogue with the public inside the galleries or other exhibition spaces. The public that interests me is the one that walks in the squares or goes shopping in the gift shops.
Do you see Toilet Paper as an art project or something else?
TP has never been an art project, it has been joined to that world, but always (and deliberately!) looking through the window. The limit of merchandising mixed with art is that certain topics (violence, war, tragedy, social injustice) trivialize all content. On the other hand, projects like TP give me the opportunity to make mistakes and get my hands dirty with content and products that would not be acceptable in the much more serious art world.
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