The Korea Herald


Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan's dark humor unfolds at Leeum Museum of Art

By Park Yuna

Published : Jan. 30, 2023 - 23:35

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"Comedian" by Maurizio Cattelan at Leeum Museum of Art (courtesy of Leeum Museum of Art)

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan -- one of the most controversial contemporary artists -- is having his first show in Korea at Leeum Museum of Art.

His humorous yet satirical works have grabbed attention globally, and his recent conceptual art involving a banana titled “Comedian,” on show at Leeum, is sure to provoke questions about the contemporary art scene such as what constitutes art and what conceptual art is.

“Comedian,” a banana duct-taped to a wall, stirred up controversy when it was shown at the 2019 Art Basel Miami Beach and sold for $120,000. The work, which also pays homage to American pop artist Andy Warhol, is the artist’s criticism of the art market.

An installation view of “WE An installation view of “WE" at Leeum Museum of Art (courtesy of Leeum Museum of Art)

"For those who have been curious about the artist’ intention behind ‘Comedian,’ this exhibition will help you understand better who he is and what artistic philosophy is embedded in his art,” said Kim Sung-won, deputy director of the museum.

The exhibition “WE” at Leeum Museum of Art shows 38 works from the three decades since the artist's emergence in the 1990s. The show is the largest survey of his oeuvre since the 2011 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Cattelan's hyperrealistic sculptures and paintings are straightforward and recognizable, while at the same time, they cleverly and stealthily appropriate art history and popular culture

From all corners of the exhibition, the gaze of multiple Cattelan as an intruder, police officer, priest, criminal, artist and boy invite us to partake in the artist’ world of human comedy. The provocative jokester intricately mobilizes Chaplin-style comic devices throughout the museum’s M2 space.

"Him" by Maurizio Cattelan at Leeum Museum of Art (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Some of his works have different contexts in Seoul. Walking across the first floor of the M2 exhibition space, you will see a downsized man who is kneeling on the floor. Take a close look at the sculpture titled "Him" and in the face of the figure you will easily recognized Adolf Hitler, seen here with his hands politely together, as if asking for forgiveness.

“The work was created in 2001 for the exhibition in Sweden, a country that maintained neutrality during the war, but reportedly helped Nazi Germany. When considering the history of Korea (which was colonized by Japan), Cattelan’s work speaks a lot here,” Kim said.

"Donghoon and Junho" by by Maurizio Cattelan at Leeum Museum of Art (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

The museum lobby hosts part of the exhibition, with taxidermied pigeons installed across the hall. The artist showed a number of stuffed pigeons at the Venice Biennale in 1997. At the entrance to the museum, one may find a man -- seemingly a homeless person -- lying against a corner of the museum, Cattelan's stab at the authority of museums.

The exhibition runs through July 16. Admission is free and online reservations must be made in advance.

By Park Yuna (