In 1996 Damien Hirst displayed two sliced-up cows at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. It was an act of art world bravado I believed would remain unmatched. I was wrong. Sculptor Maurizio Catellan, who’s career-ending installation All is on view at the Guggenheim now, tops it. Catellan, who also publishes magazines, says he’s done making art. So in lieu of a mid-career retrospective he’s suspended “140 or so” of his existing sculptures from the rotunda of the museum. It’s both audacious and enchanting. In taking over the rotunda he’s bludgeoned the iconic architecture and, at the same time, made perfect use of it. If he’s attempting, metaphorically, to hang his artistic self, he’s failed. Dangling in the air like this, his work looks terrific.
Catellan’s pieces, like that of the pope being hit by a meteor, have an appealing impishness. They’re not just political, they’re also weirdly personal. So statues of an elephant in a Klu Klux Klan robe, a kneeling Adolf Hitler, and a topless Stephanie Seymour, are funnier than you’d expect. Some of his works, like figures of horses, and boys in nooses, were meant to be hung. Some of them, when hung, take on an elegaic air, like JFK lying in an open coffin, and corpses draped with white sheets. You need to walk up (or down) the spiraling ramp to get a look at each piece and with every few steps the view shifts dramatically, pulling you along. The outer walls of the museum are left empty and visitors focus inwards, which makes absolute sense. There’s always been something odd about mounting artwork against the rounded, sloping walls of the Guggenheim, while the enormous space in the center remains empty. I think Catellan’s installation might have begun as an attack on Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. It’s really a magnificent salute.