Money And Art
They are selling postcards of Hitler in the gift shop at the Guggenheim Museum. To be precise, they are selling photographic reproductions of a work entitled Him, a polyester portrayal of the Führer that is one of the works by Maurizio Cattelan in his retrospective at the museum. I can imagine being outraged or at least troubled by the postcards in the gift shop, except that by the time I saw them I had already been bombarded by this exhibition in which nearly all of Cattelan’s oversized neo-Dadaist baubles have been hung from the ceiling of Frank Lloyd Wright’s rotunda. Cattelan’s Hitler doll—like his Picasso doll, his bicycle, his dinosaur, and the rest of the 128 items in this stupefyingly sophomoric show—is engineered for offense, irony, comedy, or who knows what else. Those who are bothered by the Hitler postcards in the gift shop are naturally going to be dismissed as insufficiently hip. The same goes for those who are disturbed by the sight of one of the world’s greatest public spaces once again turned over to an art world charlatan as his personal playpen. My own feeling is that the postcards, however misbegotten, are speech we accept, although not necessarily embrace, in a society we prize for its openness. What is really disquieting is the event that has occasioned these postcards. “Maurizio Cattelan: All”—that’s the title of the show—amounts to hate speech directed at the sponsoring institution.
I’m sorry to be a party pooper. From what I could see when I visited the other day, museumgoers were perfectly content as they meandered up and down the ramps at the Guggenheim, snapping pics of Cattelan’s pixies on their iPhones. Of course, museumgoers also seemed happy—maybe more happy, I’m not sure—looking at the Impressionist and Post-impressionist paintings in a gallery off the rotunda. And everybody was definitely all smiles as they came out of the Guggenheim into a spectacularly lovely November afternoon. The truth is that Cattelan’s presence at the Guggenheim has nothing to do with what the public may or may not want. Cattelan is at the Guggenheim because the big money in the art business is behind him. The other day, one of his minor works, a miniature model of two elevator doors, sold for just over a million dollars at Christie’s. (It comes in an edition of ten, one of which is hanging on Fifth Avenue and 89th Street.) And that was one of the more modest prices at Christie’s contemporary sale on November 8, where a Robert Gober Prison Window went for $3.3 million and a 1961 Roy Lichtenstein for $43.2 million.