Artist Maurizio Cattelan imagines his own funeral in Buenos Aires – and invites the public to join in
The Italian provocateur encourages confronting death head(stone)-on with a cemetery for the living he has planned for Art Basel Cities Week
‘My favorite dream has always been the one in which I get to go to my own funeral,’ says Maurizio Cattelan. Given some of the other kill-your-idols scenarios the Italian artist has conjured up during his career – from a sculpture of Disney’s Pinocchio floating face down and arms akimbo in a kiddie pool (Daddy Daddy, 2008) to a wax figure of Pope John Paul II felled on a red carpet by a sizable meteor (La Nona Ora, 1999) – the prospect of witnessing one’s own entombment seems almost tame. But imagining the end has its uses, the artist maintains, and for ‘Hopscotch (Rayuela)’, curated by Cecilia Alemani for the upcoming Art Basel Cities Week in Buenos Aires, Cattelan is inviting Argentine residents to join him in fantasy acts of remembrance with his collaborative artworkEternity.
For this participatory social sculpture, Cattelan has issued an open call to local artists to invoke their own favorite dream – or worst nightmare – by designing and building a tombstone or gravestone for a living person, be they an enemy, a family member, or a friend. Fictional characters are also accepted (see: Pinocchio). The artist hopes to select around 200 proposals and will ask their creators to build and install them in Palermo Park in a temporary tribute to those who have not yet passed away. ‘I have always liked cemeteries – they are so quiet and inspiring,’ the artist muses. ‘So why not build a cemetery for the living? Maybe it will make our life easier as we learn to coexist with the end.’
Cattelan, who is well known for his satirical sculptures, was born in Padua in Italy, the birthplace of commedia dell’arte. Often described as a ‘jester’ of the artworld, he creates works bearing a strong flavor of the carnivalesque, in which subjects like death and violence are met not with fear or reverence, but with a kind of macabre humor or shocking indifference. In past presentations – such as solo shows at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2011 and the Monnaie de Paris in 2016 – the artist has looked for ways to disturb accepted hierarchies and point up absurdities. As he began thinking about cemeteries for this project, he reflected that he ‘always thought it strange to build a place where we go and miss the people we love. Maybe we should build a place where we go and laugh at the ones who should go away. I hope Eternity will make other people happy as they imagine the end of their friends and enemies.’
Cattelan produced a version of Eternity in April at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Carrara, where the art students made homages to both living and deceased artists such as René Magritte, remembered with a wooden door laid flat on the ground, and Marcel Duchamp, honored with an open toilet seat. A grave for Jeff Koons featured a wilting bouquet of tulips in the style of his ‘Celebration’ series.
In Buenos Aires, a city whose history is closely intertwined with the Catholic faith as well as with traditions from across Latin America, Cattelan hopes the fleeting spectacle of an imaginary cemetery will give passersby pause as they reconsider normally discrete categories like the earthly and the otherworldly, the spiritual and the scatological. However, the artist’s goal is not contrarianism for its own sake; rather, by subverting the ancient superstitions and rituals of mourning, he hopes to inspire a kind of exorcism or catharsis. ‘In Italy when you dream of somebody dying, we say you are making their life longer,’ he says. ‘So I hope Eternity will prolong the lives of many people.’
To participate in Eternity, Argentine residents are invited to apply online through July 10, 2018. To learn more about the project, application process, and proposal requirements visit artbaselcitiesba.com/eternity.