In Milan, Maurizio Cattelan Ruminates on Death With an Installation in a Crematorium and a Shocking New Self-Portrait

Apr 6, 2022

The Italian maverick artist Maurizio Cattelan is not afraid of death. In fact, the ultimate ending is the subject of the artist’s two new shows in Milan. Perhaps counterintuitively, Cattelan hopes these projects will shed light on how to live with pain and trauma in times of turmoil.

“These two works might not be explicitly connected with the tragedies of the pandemic nor the war, but how can you abstract them from the time we’re living?” Cattelan told Artnet News. “Art doesn’t exist without the reactions of the audience.”

The two single-work exhibitions—”Lullaby” and “YOU”—are, the artist says, “magnifying lenses for our secreted pains.”

Both shows opened in Milan last week as part of Milano Art Week, which saw an array of institutional and commercial openings as well as the return of Miart. The project comes on the heels of a high-profile exhibition by the artist at UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, which drew even more visitors than the museum’s blockbuster Warhol show.

Lullaby (1994) by Maurizio Cattelan, reinstalled in Monumental Cemetery. Credits Zeno Zotti, Tempio Crematorio, Cimitero Monumentale, Milano, 2022.

“Lullaby” is a reinstallation of a work of the same name the artist created in 1994 and just donated to the city of Milan, where he currently lives. The installation is made of piles of sacks the artist filled with debris from a 1993 explosion and Mafia terrorist attack at the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea (PAC), which left five people dead and the entire city reeling.

Rather than show the work in a white cube, Cattelan opted for a much more visceral setting: the cremation room of the city’s Monumental Cemetery. Two piles of rubble sit on rail tracks that typically transport beds carrying bodies to the crematorium. Visitors must take a long and winding path to find the installation, which is on view until November 6, after which it will enter the collection of the Museo del Novecento.

YOU (2022) by Maurizio Cattelan. Credits Roberto Marossi. Courtesy the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.

“Lullaby is a symbol of a collective trauma: the dramatic bombs that have shaken Italy (and beyond) were targeting cultural sites, museums, and institutions and iconically represented an attack to the idea itself of the future,” Cattelan said.

The city reacted quickly to rebuild the damaged sites, trying to bury the wounds and recover from the shock, according to the artist. But the trauma lingers on, and the “debris is what remained as a physical obstacle to its complete removal.” The piles of rubble on the rail tracks, Cattelan concluded, are stories and narratives of mankind on “a linear path through history.”

YOU (2022) by Maurizio Cattelan. Credits Roberto Marossi. Courtesy the artist and MASSIMODECARLO.

YOU, on the other hand, is a new work unveiled at MASSIMODECARLO, which comprises a statue of the artist hanging from a noose in the green marble bathroom designed by Pietro Portaluppi. Dressed in a blue suit, the barefoot figure holds a bouquet of flowers in his right hand.

Cattelan maintains there is more to the work than the immediate shock of seeing it suspended from the ceiling. “Big changes, revolutions, traumas all bring uncertainty along. In fact all time is uncertain,” he said. “Lullaby and YOU are in good company. Looking back at my work, there’s clearly a sense of loss that connects them all.”