Once highly controversial, Maurizio Cattelan’s famed sculpture of Pope John Paul II felled by a meteorite is now so embedded in the popular imagination that an image of it appears, animated, in the opening titles of HBO’s The Young Pope. But Cattelan himself is not as recognizable as his art; he’s private to a near- Pynchonian degree, and much of his work is engaged with themes of evasion and misdirection.
But in this stylish documentary, Cattelan talks effusively on camera about his career, his work, and his private life in unexpectedly candid interviews. The film’s title is derived from an early exhibition whose primary work was the gallery building itself, locked, with a sign in the door: “Be right back.” In another anecdote, Cattelan recalls being unable to think of a piece for a major exhibition and selling his wall space to an advertising company, which mounted a perfume billboard.
Director Maura Axelrod includes interviews with artists, gallerists, and Cattelan’s sister, ex-fiancée, and current girlfriend; it becomes apparent that photos of Cattelan from past decades look a lot different from the man in the interview segments. It’s yet another evasion: For about ten years, a man named Massimiliano Gioni, a friend of the artist’s, has made public appearances and conducted interviews with Cattelan’s blessing, and his appearance here is aligned with Cattelan’s themes and sense of humor. The film’s hypnotic conclusion is the mounting of a dramatic exhibition, Cattelan’s complete body of work suspended from the Guggenheim’s rotunda ceiling; the real Cattelan, charismatic and sharply dressed, attends, but he never speaks on camera.
Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back
Directed by Maura Axelrod
Opens April 14, Quad Cinema
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 12, 2017