Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan, has just presented his latest exhibition, The Artist is Present in collaboration with Gucci in Shanghai. Curated around the concept of copying, Cattelan speaks to Sorbet about the power of plagiarism.

One day, one post. Maurizio’s Instagram (@mauriziocattelan) is a blink-and-you’ve missed it curated exhibition. Uploading one post a day before removing and starting again, we’ve screengrabbed some of our favorite posts in the last month. If you’re not following him, you really should.

All pictures courtesy of @mauriziocattelan/Instagram
Q: To begin with “originality is overrated,” does this make imitation a better substitute?

A: We live in an era where the boundaries between concepts of reality and falsehood are blurred. This ambiguity causes real deaths and, even more frightening, actual election results. Following this tendency, we can also affirm that imitation may be even more real than originality, but with less tragic consequences.

Q: Where is the fine line between inspiration and imitation?

A: To mark this difference, I would use the word copy instead of imitation. Think of a parrot: it imitates your voice but it does not understand what it’s saying. Copying, on the other hand, is an act of deep awareness of the subject. To copy means to give attention, to value the content that you are replicating. It is an act full of significance, which also adds new meanings to the original concept itself. It keeps the idea alive for the next generations.

Q: What is the relationship between the core theme of this exhibition and the city of Shanghai?

A: The city of course, was of great inspiration. We wanted to play with an old stereotype regarding China, with the aim of questioning the most hallowed principles of art in the modern era: originality, intention and expression. We wanted to overcome the old concept of counterfeit in favor of new ways to conceive reproduction and copy as an indispensable tool for facing our contemporary society – by proposing that the appreciation of a work relies on an engagement with ideas, rather than on simple aesthetic gratification.

Q: How did your initial discussion with Alessandro Michele begin?

A: We knew each other’s work and we have deep mutual respect for one another. I believe he invited me to take part in this venture because he could see a perfect partner in crime. We have been working on it for almost a year.

Photos by Alfonso Victoria

“Imitation may be even more real than originality, but with less tragic consequences”

Q: Tell us more about the process.

A: Curating a show is like working on a book or a magazine. Starting with the location and the concept, I made a long list of the works that could be shown. The editing process is one of the most important parts. The most difficult task is to turn down the superfluous; it is painful and accurate at the same time.

Q: Why did you decide to borrow from Marina Abramović’s performance and solo exhibition at MoMA, The Artist is Present, for the title of this collaboration?

A: We mocked up everything from the way the exhibition was publicized, and this is what interested me. Thanks to the images that represented the show in the media, Marina has become a contemporary Virgin Mary – a powerful and venerated icon. I couldn’t imagine a better way to represent the concept of my show than to take inspiration from that particular media campaign.

Q: You appropriated the title and portrait of Marina Abramovic’s MoMA exhibition, but why not continue the whole performance?

A: Probably I would have been very bad at it; I would start laughing after a couple of minutes.

Q: The press release explained about a dream that Alessandro Michele had, and then continued with you dreaming about “hanging around Shanghai” could you explain the connection?

A: Have you ever seen Inception? You can’t tell how one dream is linked to the other, who is dreaming it and what is the relationship between the dreamer and the person dreamt. Since the beginning, the exhibition has been designed as if it was a Chinese box set: crossing the threshold, you find yourself in a very different dream setting from what you’ve saw one step back.

Q: Did Marina react to your imitation? And if yes, what was her reaction?

A: Every act of appropriation should not start with a question, but with a statement. In the parish where I spent all my childhood, the priest used to say: ask for forgiveness, not for permission. I’m pretty sure that Marina shares the same vision and understands that to copy is to love. As a matter of fact, her Seven Easy Pieces were a kind of copy of previous works by artists she respected, and she wanted to celebrate.

Cattelan poses for a photo during a ceremony where he is given title of Honorary Professor of sculpture at the Accademia delle Belle Arti April 2018 (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images).
Photos by Alfonso Victoria

“We live in an era where the boundaries between concepts of reality and falsehood are blurred”

Q: I personally find your concept genius, but I’m intrigued to know how did Gucci react at first to this highly sensitive topic for any luxury brand struggling to fight counterfeit?

A: Actually, the genius side is in Alessandro Michele and his team: Alessandro got in touch inviting me to be the curator of a show about copy. This made it possible to be very free in designing the show, because Gucci already agreed on the main guiding principles.

Q: What would your honest reaction be if a fake Cattelan Artwork was found in the market and was being traded by Art collectors?

A: If it is a real good copy, that adds meaning to my work, I would blame myself for not doing it before anyone else.

Q: What’s the real monetary value of the copy of a work of Art in your opinion? People sell original possessions in return of money. Can a copy of no value be sold?

A: Everything can be sold and has a value, as long as it has a buyer; it’s the market law. But from an artistic point of view it’s the other way round. I recently saw a trailer for a documentary out now, that I can’t wait to see, where an art collector says: “Many people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing”. So simple, and so true.

AYK: Could you give our readers a hint on what you’re working on right now?

MC: It’s big and black and it’s not a porn.

Q: Is this the first time you have curated an exhibition of this magnitude? With over 30 international artists? What were your toughest challenges?

A: It is always like the first time, but it is not, as a matter of fact. I have curated exhibitions many times. The most memorable to me is probably the Berlin Biennale in 2006, when we moved to the city for a year with the other two curators, Ali Subotnick and Massimiliano Gioni. The most continuative project has definitely been The Wrong Gallery with the same two partners in crime, while the most irreverent has probably been Shit and Die, with Myriam Ben Salah and Marta Papini, who also collaborated with me on this project. Now that I’ve listed them all, it becomes evident that it has always been a matter of collaborating with a team: the curatorial process can be much less solipsistic than the artistic one.

Q: What was your key criterion in selecting the artists? And what about your criteria in selecting the artworks?

A: You know, it’s like asking your grandmother how to cook that special dish in the same way she does. She would answer you vaguely, saying that it’s easy and you just have to taste what you’re cooking every time you add an ingredient to the mixture. Every work is there because it adds a special flavor to the whole dish of the exhibition; it enriches it without transforming it in a complicated and indigestible matter. That’s the best way I will ever find to answer this question.

Q: You once said; “The duty of Art is to ask questions, not to provide answers”. You certainly left us with multiple unanswered questions and I won’t ask for more details, except for one question that everyone was curious to know: Who is the girl on the poster? 🙂

A: I’m still not sure about her/ his identity. I read somewhere he was a man. I decided to keep the doubt, it’s not really important who is he/she, as long as it works as a copy!

Q: Could you give our readers a hint on what you’re working on right now?

A: It’s big and black and it’s not a porn.

The End.