The ultimate artist-prankster,
successfully spent the 2010s delighting—and fooling—the art world. Case in point: Comedian
(2019), a banana duct-taped to a wall that sold for $120,000, which incited a frenzy from Art Basel in Miami Beach to mainstream morning shows
this December. Yet that was just the latest of Cattelan’s brilliant antics.
In May 2011, the Italian artist unleashed 2,000 taxidermied pigeons across the Venice Biennale. The birds perched on pipes, rafters, and the façade of the Giardini’s main pavilion, inducing the fear of being watched—or shat on. Later that year, Cattelan mounted “All,” a splashy-yet-substantive take on the typical museum retrospective. Twenty-one years worth of Cattelan’s irreverent art hung in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
’s iconic atrium: offbeat portrayals of the Pope and
; eerie sculptures of a praying Hitler and JFK in a coffin; taxidermied creatures, including a headless horse. Surprisingly, Cattelan had said the show would be his last hurrah: He was retiring. Unsurprisingly, that was not entirely true.
“As an Italian, I am used to seeing plenty of ‘fake retirees,’” New Museum
artistic director Massimiliano Gioni, a friend and former body-double of Cattelan, told Artsy
in 2018. “It’s a national sport and a serious financial plague: people feigning disabilities in order to collect pensions or retiring for the sole purpose of getting paid while still working illegally.…Maurizio plays with Italian stereotypes and exacerbates them.” He added, “I have always thought he is a very rare example of a lazy overachiever, so he has managed to be somewhat busier since he has gone into retirement.”
Busy, indeed. Since 2010, Cattelan and photographer
have developed a cult following for their eye-popping magazine Toiletpaper
; they also landed commissions with clients like OKCupid
and the New York Times
. Meanwhile, Cattelan staged shows in Warsaw, Basel, New York, and Paris; launched a gallery in Chelsea (with Gioni) dubbed Family Business; curated a flashy show at Shanghai’s Yuz Museum
in 2018 with Gucci’s Alessandro Michele; and, most recently, took over the hallowed halls of the U.K.’s Blenheim Palace—which brings us to Cattelan’s prank of the decade.
In the fall of 2016 in New York, in the thick of the fraught U.S. presidential election, Cattelan installed an 18-karat-gold toilet, perversely titled America
(2016), at the Guggenheim. Obviously, visitors were dying to christen the gold throne, some queuing up
for hours. It stirred controversy when Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector later offered the piece
to President Donald Trump. Fast-forward to 2019: The gaudy commode was installed in a lavatory at Blenheim, but just days into the exhibition, thievesnicked it
. While the robbery is still a mystery
, Cattelan has asserted he was not involved; he even did a cheeky advertisement
with an Italian art insurance company. He also revealed that America
is not unique: Two other editions are safe and sound.