Magazine article The New Yorker

Rest in Pieces

Magazine article The New Yorker

Rest in Pieces

Article excerpt


Forty-three days before the new Whitney Museum, in the meatpacking district, was to open to the public, some construction workers still clambered around the rafters of the eighth-floor gallery. In a corner, a few others argued about the best way of cutting a hole in the wall to bury an art work that many people believe does not exist. They were supposed to have broken the wall open by 9 A.M., but at ten-thirty it was still intact. "We're having a little bit of a problem," one of the construction guys said.

The work--what is left of a sculpture by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan--rested on a dolly by the elevators. The sculpture was fabricated in 2000 and intentionally destroyed four years later, for the Whitney Biennial, its boxed-up remains interred in the museum's old building, uptown. Only the curator Chrissie Iles, Cattelan, and a few art handlers had witnessed it being buried beneath the second floor; the critic Jerry Saltz, in the Village Voice , referred to its "alleged burial." What sat on the dolly didn't look like much: a concrete block, about the size of an air-conditioner, inside of which the art work's remnants were purportedly sealed.

Cattelan, who is fifty-four and svelte, with a prominent nose, paced anxiously around in red leather boots--singing songs, pulling at his face, and moaning, "It drives me crazy , this noise." He is known for lifelike wax effigies (Pope John Paul II squashed by a meteorite; a praying, pubescent-bodied Hitler), as well as for alarming taxidermy (a suicidal squirrel) and other irreverent interventions (a marble hand giving the finger outside the Milan Stock Exchange). Having determined that the wall-breaking would take a while, he and Iles took the elevator down to five, to check out some of the museum's inaugural exhibition, "America Is Hard to See." Signs were still tacked to things, cautioning, "This Is Art!" Cattelan recalled getting Iles's invitation to take part in the Biennial, in 2004.

"I answered the phone and said, 'Oh, my God, yes, yes! Why are you calling me?' " he said. "I was so in denial of what I did previously. And I thought, This is a good opportunity to destroy."

Iles pulled up a photo, on her phone, of the work, pre-destruction. It was a life-size sculpture of Cattelan seated at a table, his face planted in a plate of spaghetti. "Like a classic Mafia killing," she noted.

"Or gluttony," Cattelan said. …

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