BREATH GHOSTS BLIND – Pirelli HangarBicocca Milan

Maurizio Cattelan’s exhibition “Breath Ghosts Blind,” is an event that makes us reflect on the theme of death. It can be seen though 20 February 2022 at the HangarBicoca of Milan. If you suffer from depression this may not be the show for you. 

There is no shock or irreverent effect typical of his earlier artistic gestures—think of the real banana attached to the wall with adhesive tape at Art Basel in Miami, the golden toilet bowl at the Guggenheim, 2016, Papa Wojtyla, John Paul ll, hit and grounded by a divine meteorite, 1999. The artist has changed course, this time focusing on the psychological and spiritual dimensions by dividing a tragic representation into three acts where the works/installations become one with the spaces of the museum structure. 

“Blind, 2021” Installation view, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2021 Resin, wood, steel, aluminum, polystyrene, paint 1,695 x 1,300 x 1,195 cm Produced by Marian Goodman Gallery and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan Courtesy the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan

Entering the hangar, the first meeting is with “Breath” a double sculpture in white Carrara marble, two bodies, a dog and a person crouched in a fetal position as if he were a homeless man with the features of the artist. A light that shines only on the installation creates a sense of vertiginous emptiness and loneliness. 

As we move in the dark, continuing along the apparently deserted central nave, we do not realize that on the sides of the pylons of the hangar there are two thousand pigeons positioned side by side like ghostly disturbing presences that contribute to the gloomy atmosphere. The theme of pigeons is extremely important in this artist’s oeuvre, this being the third time he has featured them. In the 1997 Venice Biennale, visitors were presented by an installation composed of about a hundred taxidermy pigeons. They were placed inside the halls of the Italian Pavivllion, complete with face excrement on the floor which garnered protests from various artists. 

“Breath, 2021” Installation view, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2021 Carrara marble Human figure: 40 x 78 x 131 cm Dog: 30 x 65 x 40 cm Courtesy the artist, Marian Goodman Gallery and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan Photo: Agostino Osio

The pigeons scrutinize us, the positions are reversed; it is we who become the object of observation. Silently, in the dim light of a rarefied atmosphere, the birds remind us of the impending end, of the inevitable judgment, but they also demonstrate that “they” are a real community, unlike humans who struggle without sometimes finding meaning. 

While walking in the exhibition you see a person who looks like Maurizio Cattelan. A visitor is seen observing him as if he were the artist himself; he asks questions and takes photographs. The imposter for Cattelan does not speak, but introduces himself with a sign with the words that says “I love you” 

Performer at Cattelan’s exhibition. Photo by Stefania Carrozzini

Around so much emptiness and desolation, these words console us, also because at the end of the hangar we come across another place that strikes the heart and mind. In the “Cube” stands a black monolith with the outline of an airplane sucked into the building. The plane becomes one with the tower, an image that has crossed the minds of many people for years, and which reminds us of the tragic events of 11 September 2001 and the desire for light and truth. 

“Ghosts, 2021” Installation view, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2021 Taxidermied pigeons Environmental dimensions Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan Photo: Agostino Osio

More than a provocation, “Breath Ghosts Blind” is a symbolic representation of the cycle of life. Cattelan develops a sequence of distinct acts that address existential themes and concepts such as the fragility of existence, memory and the sense of individual and community loss. The unprecedented site-specific project questions the current system of values, including symbolic references that belong to the collective imagination. G&S

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