Piazza XXIV Maggio, Milan
May 5 – June 6, 2004
On May 5, 2004 the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi presents a piece by Maurizio Cattelan that is specifically conceived for one of the most significant spots in the city’s history: in the setting of Piazza XXIV Maggio, with its echoes of Napoleonic campaigns and World Wars I and II, Maurizio Cattelan stages the epilogue of a macabre fairy tale rooted in both Goya’s etchings and in ancient rituals engraved on popular memory.
Commissioned and produced for the occasion, the sculpture Untitled (2004) is made up of three life-size mannequins hanging from the oldest tree in Milan. The work seems to stage a new mass hallucination, which captures and yet wards off the tension and horror of our era: as if on a medieval gibbet, these three children hang from a tree, observing the truth with wide-open eyes.
Untitled sees childhood as a realm of freedom and imagination, but also as a place of violence and terror. A plunge into reality at its crudest, Maurizio Cattelan’s work has always been a mirror for the tensions and hysteria of the contemporary world; whether he addresses the drama of history, as in his portrait of Hitler as a child, or deals with current events, as in his Pope struck by a meteorite, the artist sets up a short circuit between the world’s contradictions and holds them up for public judgment. Like a spotlight trained on reality, Untitled prophetically appears in the very period that the media are broadcasting terrible images of the violence perpetrated in the prison of Abu Ghraib. Cattelan’s installation immediately provokes contrasting reactions and sparks a heated debate on art and on what should be allowed in public spaces. The discussion—which spreads through the press and the media, in a whirlwind of events animated by a sense of urgency that rarely seizes the city—engages journalists, critics, writers, local authorities, and the citizens of Milan. Under the old oak tree appear posters, letters, and messages of approval or protest written by local residents and passers-by. Less than forty-eight hours after its installation, a citizen destroys the sculpture, which was to have remained up until June 6. Directors of museums and international institutions immediately rally to the defense of Cattelan’s work, including Harald Szeemann, who invites the artist to exhibit his sculpture the following autumn at the first Seville biennial. With Untitled, contemporary art returns after many years of absence to the front pages of Italian newspapers, and for weeks Piazza XXIV Maggio is turned into a space of debate: anyone passing by the oak can phone in live to a local radio station, Radio Popolare, and leave their statements and comments. Today, the image of the three dummies hanging from the tree in Piazza XXIV Maggio has become part of the collective imagination, and is constantly cited and used as a reference in debates and discussions on contemporary art and censorship.
The tree from which Cattelan’s dummies were hung is over a century old and was replanted in Piazza XXIV Maggio in 1924 to commemorate the victims of World War I. An iron and bronze plaque, later set in the ground under the tree, reads “To the residents of the Ticinese – Lodovica neighborhood who gave their lives for their country”. In the center of the square, near the oak, is a large Neoclassical arch built by architect Luigi Cagnola to celebrate Napoleon Bonaparte’s victory at Marengo in 1800. Fought by Napoleonic and Austrian forces near Alessandria, in Piedmont, on June 14, 1800, the battle of Marengo sealed French control over Northern Italy, and the arch commemorates Napoleon’s victorious entrance into Milan three days later. For years, the gate was called Porta Marengo, whereas it is now named Porta Ticinese, after the street that leads out of the square and used to be the road to Pavia, whose ancient name was Ticinum. In 1815, the original inscription referring to Napoleon was replaced by a generic dedication to peace, with the words «Dedic anno MDCCCXV» on the north face and «Paci Populorum Sospitae» on the south. At the sides of the arch, one can still see the two ancient booths used by customs agents.
Maurizio Cattelan was born in Padua, Italy, in 1960, and lives and works in New York and Milan. He has had solo exhibitions at major museums such as Kunsthaus Bregenz (2008), Museum für Moderne Kunst and Portikus in Frankfurt (2007), Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris (2004), P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York (2002), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (2003), Museum Ludwig in Cologne (2003), the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1998) and Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Turin (1997). Cattelan has taken part in Skulptur Projekte in Münster (1997), and the Venice Biennale, on five occasions (2003, 2001, 1999, 1997 and 1993), as well as many group exhibitions such as Pop Life at Tate Modern in London (2009), theanyspacewhatever at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (2009), After Nature at the New Museum in New York (2008), Monument to Now at the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art in Athens (2004–2005), the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (2004) and Apocalypse: Beauty and Horror in Contemporary Art at the Royal Academy of Arts in London (2000). In 2006 Maurizio Cattelan co-curated the 4th berlin biennale with Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick.
Maurizio Cattelan’s works are part of some of the most important public and private collections worldwide such as: the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens; Fondation Pinault, Paris; Jumex Collection, Mexico City; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; Elaine Dannheisser Collection, New York; Gilles Fuchs Collection, Paris; Seattle Museum of Contemporary Art, Seattle; Migros Museum, Zurich; F.R.A.C., Languedoc-Roussillon; Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Puteaux; F.R.A.C., Nord-Pas de Calais; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Castello di Rivoli, Turin; and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin.