Maurizio Cattelan belongs to a long tradition of artists who have made names for themselves by courting controversy. His best-known works include an effigy of the Pope struck down by a meteorite and a figure of Hitler kneeling in prayer – images that confront themes of death, history and religion, with the brevity and wit of a cartoonist.
Throughout his career Cattelan has become notorious for pranks and provocations, generally targeted at the art world itself. The artist has persuaded a gallerist to dress as a giant penis with rabbit ears and cocooned a dealer to the wall with adhesive duct-tape. On another occasion he invited important art-world figures visiting the Venice Biennale on an exclusive jaunt to Palermo, where he had constructed a replica of the Hollywood sign above a rubbish dump. Cattelan has repeatedly exposed the vanity and superficiality of the art world, which in return adores him.
The new work in this room presents a further twist on one of Cattelan’s signature images, the dead horse. In the past he has presented horses hanging from the ceiling or with head disappearing into the wall. Critical discussion has related the image to the equine in art history, from the majestic stallions of eighteenth-century painting to the live horses brought into the gallery by Arte Povera artist Jannis Kounellis. Sceptical headline writers, by contrast, have dutifully picked up the metaphor of flogging a dead horse – that is, carrying out an activity or idea that has ceased to have any purpose.