The Art World’s Provocateur, Still Horsing Around

Coined a joker, a disruptor, and an artworld prankster—he’s famous for his effigy of Pope John Paul II as flattened by a meteor, his sculpture of Hitler while kneeling in prayer, and the life-size Pinocchio he left floating in the Guggenheim’s fountain—Maurizio Cattelan pleads innocent. “Everyone always says I’m a joker but I am always very serious. It gets trying after a while, like being the boy who cried wolf or Cassandra. But, since the works are nothing without their audience, maybe I’m the one who’s wrong. Maybe the joke is on me,” he once said.

This time, in an exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, the provocateur has again drawn the crowds like he does best—around five headless, taxidermied horses. Subtitled “Kaputt,” the exhibition references the 1944 memoir of Italian author Curzio Malaparte, whose graphic retelling of WWII behind German lines devotes an entire chapter to horses. Malaparte describes roads lined with dead and dying horses, and lakes filled with shivering horses who have huddled together to flee forest fires. “The horse is our homeland,” he writes in a poignant metaphor for Europe as the horses are found lifeless—particularly, those in the lake, who became trapped when the waters froze overnight and found with their eyes fixed in terror. In the gallery, Cattelan’s “Kaputt” horses are frozen as well, and while not his first reference to the classic symbol of art history (think back to his Novecento in 1997, where an elongated horse hung from the ceiling by harness) Cattelan succeeds in seducing his viewer and making an age-old symbol again, feel new.

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