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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Maurizio Cattelan, 1999


Pablo Picasso, with his head inflated at least three times its normal size, is standing in front of the Museum of Modern Art. He's greeting flocks of bemused and bewildered visitors. Tourists stop to pose for pictures, dwarfed by his enormous balloon head. He panhandles some change and, exhausted by all the activity, finds a spot on the floor of the lobby and settles down for a nap.
Welcome to the world of Maurizio Cattelan. Here, life is both comic and tragic, immediately recognizable and utterly strange. Over the past ten years — and with a relatively small number of works — he has earned an international reputation and the kind of notoriety that comes from a genuine delight in where he'll take us next. But while Maurizio's best known as a comic figure in the art world, there is a pathos in his work that cannot be denied. He's a storyteller who's always looking for — and finding — ways to slip in and around the comedy of human relations and tell us something about ourselves. But he never leaves himself out of the story, and, more often than not, refers to his work as self-portraits.
Like most of my favorite artists, Maurizio is a bit reluctant to explain his work. So when I asked him to come by and talk with me, I promised that I wouldn't make him explain anything. But once we sat down, I seemed to have no recollection of saying any such thing.

BOB: The first time I ever saw your work was when you had the donkey and the chandelier in the gallery.
MAURIZIO: A failure.

BOB: Well, it was closed by the Board of Health after only a few days. Not many people actually saw that show.
MAURIZIO: But the donkey made such a fantastic noise!

BOB: All that braying is what got it closed down.
MAURIZIO: Did you know that I had a project with barking birds? This was another failure.

BOB: What do you mean by barking?
MAURIZIO: I was thinking to have one animal do another, to sound like another animal. For six months I had them with a tape recorder ...

BOB: Oh, like parrots.

BOB: You were trying to teach them to bark? And you really thought you could do that?
MAURIZIO: Sure. I have a friend who did this. His birds make the noise of a washing machine. I like when you are in front of something that you know extremely well, but it's not the same. The bird is barking. It's not chirp-chirp.

BOB: If you wanted an even bigger failure, you could have tried to teach a dog to chirp.
MAURIZIO: [laughs]

BOB: So the show with the donkey was your first in New York.
Was there more pressure, or was it just another show to you?

MAURIZIO: I was extremely excited but, at the same time, every show you decide to do is important.

BOB: Every show?
MAURIZIO: Yes. If you think that one place is more important than another, you are lost. You are lost.

BOB: When I asked you to come and talk, I said that I wouldn't make you explain your work. But now that you're here ...
MAURIZIO: I can explain the process. If you asked me, "What does the donkey mean?" I don't know what it means. But I am sure that the process can be interesting.

BOB: But you create these images — an ostrich with its head in the floor, a stuffed horse hanging from the ceiling, a live donkey in a gallery — which you can smell as soon as you walk inside ... In fact, there are animals in a lot of your works. You're not choosing things so randomly.
MAURIZIO: That show was the first time that I was visualizing myself. You know, back in school days in Italy they used to put a hat on your head — this kind of hat with two big ears — and they'd say, "Bronca." So I would think, "My god, I'm like an ass ..."

BOB: Because?
MAURIZIO: Because I didn't know what to do for that show at Daniel Newburg Gallery. I had the idea only five days before it opened. Everything else I wanted to do was too expensive for the gallery. But I really liked the donkey. I remember strongly this image of Daniel and me and the donkey. This was really a fantastic image.

BOB: Maybe better than the show?
MAURIZIO: For myself, yes, because it was very personal. And then the show was just okay. This elaborate, crystal chandelier with the donkey. I imagined that when the Communists took over in Russia, you would have seen something like this inside the White Palace. So it was like a little story.

BOB: Like your life?
MAURIZIO: You know, it's true that I've taken interviews from other people as my own, and once I completely copied one. People would stop me and say, "Oh, I didn't know you were born in Corsica and you were a student of Bataille." Which, of course, is Ange Leccia.

BOB: We always see each other in New York, and I know you're traveling a lot of the time. So you're not permanently anywhere.
MAURIZIO: This is the condition of everybody lately.

BOB: And you don't have a studio anywhere?
MAURIZIO: If I didn't have any shows, and there wasn't any interest, I wouldn't do anything.

BOB: If people stopped asking you to be in shows, you wouldn't make anything ever again?
BOB: But you're asked a lot nowadays. You must get some satisfaction from making your work.
MAURIZIO: It's a deep orgasm: three hours, if it's a good work; five minutes if it's so-so. But when it's not very good, you might regret it for the next six months.

BOB: Have you regretted some pieces you made?
MAURIZIO: No, because in the end, even if it's a failure — and I've done many — it's something that is part of your experience. Because I don't have a studio, a piece is made just for a show and what I see is what you are going to see.

BOB: I've always been a fan — long before we met.
MAURIZIO: When people tell me, "I like the work," I say, "Okay, okay." But I can't believe it because I'm not able to take myself seriously.

BOB: You can't believe that I like your work?
MAURIZIO: I mean, yes, I do. But it's amazing.

BOB: Well, listen, life is really tragic.
MAURIZIO: Yes. [laughs]

BOB: So tell me about some of your interesting failures.
MAURIZIO: Oh, Jesus. [laughs] You start with an idea and you think, "I'm going to make at least one object." This is always my goal, to do, let's say, a rhetorical sculpture, and then in the end I'm not able.

BOB: Your goal is to do a rhetorical sculpture?
MAURIZIO: For a long time I had a car in mind. My god, I was so obsessed. It was at least two years. I said, "I want to do a car, a beautiful car." Because it's the end of the century. The last century it was the end of the horse, and now it's the end of the mechanical century.

BOB: Do you drive?
MAURIZIO: I am really involved with a bicycle, and that's another world. But I do have a car.

BOB: Do you drive well or badly?
MAURIZIO: Mmm ... I drive slowly.

BOB: Is it a myth that Italians are bad drivers?
MAURIZIO: No, we're pretty good. And we have fantastic — how do you say? — blowers ...

BOB: Horns.
MAURIZIO: Here in New York the horn blowers are very soft, but in Italy, Jesus, the level of noise. It's unbelievable.

BOB: So what's the starting point for your work?
MAURIZIO: I say, "Cazzo, cazzo, I'd like to do something great ..."

BOB: What does that mean?
MAURIZIO: "Cazzo" is your dick. [laughs] Cazzo! Cazzo! It's like, "Fuck, fuck!" So this is the first point ... to present something like an object or a painting. But when I realize that it's extremely difficult for me to obtain this result, then I'm hating myself that I grew up and decided to do it, to be in this fucking world.

BOB: Hating yourself?
MAURIZIO: Yeah, sure. To find myself in a situation where I'm not able to say, "No, I can't do that." Because I feel like a professional. When you say, "Yes," you are sure that in the end, good or bad, you're going to end up with something.

BOB: You're a professional ...
MAURIZIO: Art worker.

BOB: But with you, there's not always an actual work.
MAURIZIO: There was the time I had to go to the police to tell them that someone stole an invisible sculpture from my car.

BOB: I've never heard about this. An invisible piece?
MAURIZIO: I was supposed to have a show at a gallery, and I didn't really have anything for them ...

BOB: ... and you didn't know how to tell them?
MAURIZIO: Yes, so I decided to report that a sculpture had been stolen from my car.

BOB: So you'd have a good excuse for the gallery?
MAURIZIO: Exactly. I went to the police station in the early morning, and I was frantic, "Oh my god ..."

BOB: And they believed you?
MAURIZIO: Sure. [laughs]

BOB: Didn't you once steal someone else's work, and then bring it to the place where you were having your show?
MAURIZIO: Yes. This was more about displacement. I thought it was interesting to move one place completely into another.

BOB: So you broke into the gallery?
MAURIZIO: Yes, we broke inside at night.

BOB: They didn't have an alarm?
MAURIZIO: No. [laughs]

BOB: Whose work did you take?
MAURIZIO: Actually we took everything from the gallery ...

BOB: Like the fax machine and all the stuff in the office?
MAURIZIO: Everything. We rented a van, and just filled it up.

BOB: This was in Amsterdam?
MAURIZIO: Yes, at de Appel. They wanted me to do a piece in a week. But I'm not used to working so quickly. So I thought the best way to get something that fast was to take the work of someone else.

BOB: That's a new take on the readymade.
MAURIZIO: Well, when you don't know what to do ...

BOB: But didn't the people at de Appel ask, "Where did all this stuff come from?"
MAURIZIO: The story finished quickly, because the police came and there were problems ...

BOB: Were you arrested?
MAURIZIO: No. This is why I did the piece in Holland.

BOB: [laughs] Imagine doing that in New York.
MAURIZIO: It took a while for everyone to calm down, but then we became very good friends and they even asked me to do a show with them.

BOB: But that's your ultimate punishment — you had to figure something out for another show.
MAURIZIO: Yeah, it's true.

BOB: Crime doesn't pay.
MAURIZIO: But I can tell you about the worst punishment I received. Once, I was talking with a collector, and he said, "I really would like to have a painting made by you." And I thought, "Yes, let's take this opportunity for once to see how difficult it would be to make a painting." So I said, "Send me a canvas and some colors and I'll do it." He said, "Whatever you want to do, it's fine for me." A week later, I received a white canvas — that's probably still in my apartment — and it was the most horrible nightmare for a year. It was there every morning. Waking up, it was the first thing I saw. After a year, I gave up.

BOB: At a certain point, especially in the pieces with animals, there was a shift in your work away from a Pop feeling to much more poignant or complex emotions. I'm thinking of the dead squirrel at the table.
MAURIZIO: With this piece, I found a good balance between failure and the thing sculpture is always looking for, this kind of idealistic object. And it's also a kind of self-portrait. Actually, this is the kitchen of my family.

BOB: Oh, really.
MAURIZIO: Yeah, so sad. [laughs] I mean, I grew up with this fucking yellow table! Dinner every night at this table. Once, my mother was ironing on the table and she left it there and made a burn in the formica. My father carved off the part of the table that was burned, so we had the same table but it was smaller. And we were a fighting family, so it wasn't easy. [laughs] Everything got smaller after this story.

BOB: But it's not a suicide?
MAURIZIO: Yeah, it is. I mean, nobody in my family was a suicide, but this is the piece with the squirrel.

BOB: There's another sculpture that's a mysterious death — an accidental drowning or murder ...
MAURIZIO: That was in Munster. I was trying to create a story with the lake. I put a mannequin in the lake — to represent a dead body. It was a female body fixed with heavy ropes.

BOB: To weigh it down?
MAURIZIO: Only to hold it in place. It was just below the surface, and nobody saw it. The photograph was taken right after we put it in the lake. Then, three or four months later, people in Munster asked to have it removed because it was disturbing.

BOB: They had divers go in to try to find it?

BOB: And did they?
MAURIZIO: Yes. [laughs]

BOB: So it's like a real story where someone kills a person, dumps the body in a lake, and then there's a search for it.
MAURIZIO: At the moment the community asked to have it removed, it was fantastic.

BOB: It wasn't even a real body! But just knowing it was there was enough.
MAURIZIO: I liked the idea of giving the lake an aura, giving it a story — which it didn't have before.

BOB: And there's a piece after that which is another death, but without a body — the empty grave that you dug directly into a concrete floor.
MAURIZIO: In Dijon. At the time, people were saying, "You have to show some actual pieces, because people want to see something." And I said, "Okay, this is a challenge. Now I'm going to work so hard that you are going to see so many pieces you can't believe it!"

BOB: Sometimes the most perverse thing is to give people exactly what they want.
MAURIZIO: I know. [laughs] I remember the first time I was in Dijon, and the lighting in the main room reminded me a lot of the morgue. So it was a kind of natural decision to dig a hole. Visually, I guess it reminded people of a grave, but it was just a hole with some dirt beside.

BOB: Tell me about the piece you're going to do in London. From what I understand, it's another kind of memorial.
MAURIZIO: Yes, a memorial wall. It's talking about the dead in a nice way, in a way that we like ... [laughs]

BOB: To have a memorial?

BOB: But to what?
MAURIZIO: It's about losing, about pride, about many things. But basically it's about England and the English National Soccer Team. It's a good team. I mean, I really love them and I love how they play. For many years they taught everyone. Italy has lost many games to them. But now maybe it's the Third World coming up.

BOB: Is it a stone wall?
MAURIZIO: It's black granite.

BOB: And what's carved into the wall? The names of all the players?
MAURIZIO: No, just all the lost games.

BOB: Since when?
MAURIZIO: Since the beginning of their history.

BOB: Which is?

BOB: This may not be a very popular show in London.
MAURIZIO: The team has played 700 games, but they've only lost 160. And there were many ties.

BOB: I know that you sponsored a soccer team in Italy, but I've never understood the whole story.
MAURIZIO: That was in a little town near Bologna. Of course, being able to have your own team means that you're a rich man — which I'm not. So the first idea was: "I'd like to have a team." And also the immigration problem for Italy at that time was completely new.

BOB: Immigration from Africa?
MAURIZIO: Yes. The guys on the team were from Senegal.

BOB: Were they already playing together?
MAURIZIO: No, I found them on the street, and I asked them, "Would you like to be on a soccer team?" And I gave them the uniforms ...

BOB: The name on the uniform is Rauss. Is that a real company?
MAURIZIO: It's a fake company. It's a word that comes from the German. It means "go home." It's the only memory I have from the war because my father and my grandfather were always saying "rauss." And you can still see this word on the streets in Italy — with the " ." So it's a ghost that's still around.

BOB: And your team actually played matches? You were able to arrange this?
MAURIZIO: It's not so hard to do. We can put a team together with index — a baseball team, and you can play against the Interview team.

BOB: That wouldn't be fair. The Interview team is too out of shape.
MAURIZIO: That's true.

BOB: So did your soccer team win a lot of matches?
MAURIZIO: No, no, my guys were always losing. It was bad ...

BOB: The idea of failure and losing is starting to look like a theme here. And I follow your work so closely ... what does that say about me?!
MAURIZIO: [laughs] There is a romantic idea in losing, but the point with my team wasn't really that they would win or lose — just that they would be a team and play.

BOB: No, I know. But most people see your work in pictures, and they can only imagine what's going on. Like the piece where the horse is suspended from the ceiling, which has been reproduced a lot. The horse looks quite real, but of course it's stuffed ...
MAURIZIO: I tried to have it real, but it was too difficult. [laughs]

BOB: For me, the immediate reference is to Kounellis and the famous piece from 1969 with the horses in the gallery. Is that something you were thinking about?
MAURIZIO: Not really. I think it's honest to say that my work has roots, and I really like Kounellis's work, but there are so many horses throughout the history of human life ...

BOB: In paintings and in sculptures.
MAURIZIO: It's a classic object.

BOB: But hanging it from the ceiling is a little bit like the end of the line for the horse in art. I mean, what does someone do after that?
MAURIZIO: I hope that we never make an end of anything — it's a permanent improving. And actually, this was another self-portrait ...

BOB: Why was this a picture of you?
MAURIZIO: Because it was a period when I had so much energy but wasn't able to do anything with it. It was like having a very good car, with the engine revved up, but in neutral. And at the time, Italy was in the middle of trying to clean up its politics. There was an attempt to get rid of all the corrupt politicians to make room for the new corrupt politicians. [laughs]

BOB: The horse suspended from the ceiling isn't going anywhere.
MAURIZIO: The horse is between the earth and the sky, and it's trying to get to the floor. I did another version and had the legs stretched so it's somehow being pulled towards the floor. It's like there's a magnetic force coming from the ground.

BOB: Your drawing of the grandma with the holster and the guns — is this another self-portrait?
MAURIZIO: No. [laughs] No. It's Georgia O'Keeffe ... in a Western situation.

BOB: I know that you had a giant head of Georgia O'Keeffe made in Santa Fe, and you hired a person to wear it for the opening of a group show there. You made this huge cartoon of the most famous artist in the Southwest.
MAURIZIO: It's true ...

BOB: You're hanging your head down like you did something bad ...
MAURIZIO: Usually I try not to repeat myself. But at the time I was already thinking about the Picasso piece, and I was impatient. So when I had this opportunity in Santa Fe, and at the same time as the opening of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, I had to take it.

BOB: Did she speak to people?

BOB: Just walked through the crowd.
MAURIZIO: Yeah, just walked around with everyone.

BOB: Here in New York when you had a giant Picasso head made and hired an actor to wear it at the Museum of Modern Art, he was speaking with people. One friend of mine saw him asking for spare change, and another saw him taking a nap on the floor.
MAURIZIO: Oh, Jesus ... [laughs] I mean, these were professional actors and I tried not to tell them what to do, but I did want them to do the same things Mickey Mouse does ...

BOB: When he greets people at Disneyland?
MAURIZIO: Yes. So I tried not to interfere with what would happen on its own. And after a while, it was the visitors who directed almost everything. People were crazy to have their pictures taken with him.

BOB: Just like at the theme park.

BOB: Are there any more artists who are going to be brought comically back to life?
MAURIZIO: No, I don't think so. But I never say "never." [laughs]

BOB: And what are you doing next?
MAURIZIO: I am preparing a grave for a little dog in Rome — just to close the animal period. You know, even if it's one more failure. I mean, basically what you are saying is always the same crap. It's losing, disappearing. And it's interesting to be able to express it at different levels and in different ways so that the work can improve. I don't have anything to lose, I don't have anything to gain.  

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Maurizo Cattelan by Anders Edström, 1999
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