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Maurizio Cattelan

Maurizio Cattelan

Continuing our series of contemporary art exhibitions at the Theseus Temple, this year we present a single work by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. A flock of pigeons is perched high up on the decorative cornice of an empty room. Sitting alone or in small groups, they appear to observe the visitors below, sharing their bemusement at the situation everyone finds themselves in. After some time, we realize that they are not in
fact alive.

The fifteen taxidermied birds are a work of art by the artist Maurizio Cattelan. Born in Padua, Italy, in 1960, Cattelan is one of the most well-known and provocative artists of our time. His humorous and satirical sculptures – from La Nona Ora (1999), a wax replica of Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite, to Him (2001), a life-like mannequin of Adolf Hitler as a small boy at prayer – invariably generate both controversy and debate. Like a court jester of the past, Cattelan employs irreverence and absurdity in order to question and undermine social conventions and hierarchies.

More than twenty years ago, Cattelan was invited by curator Germano Celant to participate in the main exhibition of the 1997 Venice Biennale. “I had gone to see the pavilion in Venice about a month before the opening,” he later recalled. “The inside was a shambles and it was filled, really filled, with pigeons. For me as an Italian, it was like seeing something you’re not supposed to see, like the dressing room of the Pope. But then again, that is the situation in Venice, so I thought I should just present it as it is, a normal situation.”

The artwork’s title, Turisti (Tourists), is a humorous and pointed reference to the hordes of visitors to the city of Venice and its Biennale, whose number is rivalled only by that of the city’s population of pigeons. Looking down on the empty space once occupied by the colossal marble sculpture Theseus Slaying the Centaur of Antonio Canova (a countryman of Cattelan’s, born in a nearby town some two hundred years earlier), it alludes to the passing of time, the de-monumentalization of art, and invites us to question our own relationship with the city, its buildings and green spaces. Who, we might ask, are the actual tourists among us?

The work on exhibition belongs to the Collezione Prada and was selected in collaboration with it. The Kunsthistorisches Museum has also partnered with Fondazione Prada, Milan, to conceive the exhibition Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and Other Treausures, curated by filmmaker Wes Anderson and writer and illustrator Juman Malouf, which will be presented in Milan in September 2019 following its presentation in Vienna (on view until 28 April).

Maurizio Cattelan lives and works in Milan and New York, and declared his retirement from art in 2011. The exhibition is curated by Jasper Sharp with the support of the Contemporary Patrons of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Contemporary Art at the Theseus Temple

Beginning in 2012, the museum began a new series of exhibitions within the Temple, a neo-classical structure built by court architect Peter von Nobile in 1823 to be the home for a single work of then-contemporary art: Antonio Canova's white marble masterpiece Theseus Slaying the Centaur. For almost seventy years, this artwork stood alone inside the building, until in 1891 it was moved to the newly completed Kunsthistorisches Museum where it still stands today. More than a century later, these exhibitions have returned the Temple to its original purpose: to house remarkable artworks by contemporary artists, one at a time.

Artists who have previously exhibited at the Theseus Temple include Ugo Rondinone (2012), Kris Martin (2012), Richard Wright (2013), Edmund de Waal (2014), Susan Philipsz (2015), Ron Mueck (2016), Kathleen Ryan (2017) and Felix Gonzalez-Torres (2018).


25 April 2019
to 6 October 2019

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