Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery at Maurizio Cattelan and Gucci’s boundaryblurring exhibition, “The Artist is Present”. By Dana Koh
Wait a minute. Haven’t we already seen “The Artist is Present”, an exhibition that gained widespread acclaim under the hands of performance artist Marina Abramovic? That was the question running through the heads of fashion and art cognoscenti alike, upon receiving news of an art collaboration of the same name—this time, between satirical artist, Maurizio Cattelan and Gucci’s Alessandro Michele.
Like its title, the entire exhibition is an intentional act of appropriation, addressing how originality can be achieved through the art of replication or repetition, and how originals can be preserved, and sometimes even revived, through copies.Artworks by over 30 artists walk, blur and cross the lines between authenticity and imitation, all in an attempt to explore the age of unapologetic copying that hat we live in, questioning the most hallowed principles of art today.“Copying ying is like a blasphemy: It could seem not respectful towards God, but at t the same time is the significative recognition of its existence,” said Cattelan, telan, who replicated the Sistine Chapel in 1:6 scale, making Michelangelo’s masterpiece suddenly ultra-accessible and seen in Shanghai. Sacrilegious? ? Arguably so, but it is also genius in the way this resurrects the relationship between art and audience, albeit through warped and wondrous ways.And And isn’t that the crux of what art is—to be seen and to inspire? Harper’s BAZAAR AZAAR speaks to the conceptual curator about “The Artist is Present”, , on till 16 December at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai.
How did the collaboration with Alessandro Michele come me about?
We come from very diverse backgrounds and modes of creation. tion. I find fashion fascinating for its double nature. On the one hand, it’s a really advanced industrial and economic system, involving so many people in the production chain; on the other, it seems to be depending on one head only, which is the creative director’s head: She/he has to make rapid and instinctual choices, on which all those people rely on. I work in a completely different way; I prefer not to be bound to anyone that counts on my inspiration to make a living, that’s why I always avoided having a studio.We’re both fascinated by the overlap between these two different methods of being creative, and if it’s true that opposites attract; I promise our collaboration is working!
How did you find working with Michele, and what parallels para did you discover?
I Iw would say that he works on iconography, I work on icons.The ico etymology is the same; we both adopt the language lan of images, a territory that everyone has the skills ski to explore because no alphabet is involved.At the same sa time, no one will get the same sensations and experience e as his/her travel mate. Both Alessandro’s and a my jobs are to pull out meaning from this reign of the subjective interpretation and to make our products significative for more than one season.
Can you please explain the concept of “the copy is the original” in more detail?
It’s a concept as old ol as humanity itself: Copying has to do with the transmission and di diffusion of knowledge, both to your contemporaries and for the ones that tha haven’t been born yet. Antique Romans endlessly copied the classical Greek statues, because they wanted to make it possible for everyone, from the senator to the blacksmith, to admire them. More recently, we’ve been through years where private property, and then copyrighting, has been such an essential principle against other ideologies that we now fail to recognise the value of the act of copying.The sharing economy, from Napster on, seems to redeem this situation, and to reconsider copying. My newsagent says: “Start copying what you love. Copy, copy, copy, copy. At the end of the copy, you will find yourself.”
How do the works in the exhibition support the theme?
Every work on show has a different relationship with the concept of copying.To me, it was important to witness the most comprehensive range possible of reproduction and appropriation. There’ ll be repeated actions, identity exchanges, copies of portraits, huge masterpieces from the past reproduced in a smaller scale. From time to time, it might be difficult for the audience to retrace how the works are linked to the original concept of the show, but I conceive exhibitions as a visual organism that makes sense as a whole. That's why it’s so difficult to speak about them!
Which works stand out for you the most?
It’s hard to say. Of course, as a parent, you have your favorite son, but it’s a secret you can’t even admit to yourself. My opinion, generally speaking, is that the best works always seem to be done under a particular urgency: They are all the transformation of a personal emergency into a public act. Those have the quality to be significant in the future, and that’s the secret to tell apart masterpiece from “market-piece.”
What do you hope viewers will get out of seeing and experiencing “The Artist is Present”?
I’m rather old-school, thinking that when an artist does his work, it’s no longer his… I see what people make of it:The same is with an artist-curated exhibition. My hope for this exhibition is to find the way to make it travel to the West—it would be very relevant to possibly compare and contrast the feedback on the issue of copy by audiences from such a culturally diverse part of the world. ■
Clockwise from left: Artist and curator of “The Artist is Present”, Maurizio Cattelan.Untitled by Maurizio Cattelan. Carina Lau and Alessandro Michele. Eternity by Xu Zhen. A Gucci Sylvie bag made of LEGO bricks by Andy Hung Chi-Kin. pink-blue by Kapwani Kiwanga. Liu Wen with a replica of the Hollywood sign. One of the rooms with (clockwise from top) Speech Bubbles by Philippe Parreno; Mollusk by Reena Spaulings; OVER AND OVER. OVER AND OVER. AND OVER AND OVER. AND OVER AND OVER. by Lawrence Weiner; andUntitled by Jose Dávila. The catalogue in the form of a broadsheet, calledThe New Work Times