As a rule, I don’t have much time for taxidermy in art. Sometimes it works, but for me such instances are few and far between. But if anyone can get away with it, it’s Maurizio Cattelan; contrary to my own expectation, his use of taxidermy consistently wins me round.
Cattelan’s iconoclasm has given us La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour), a sculpture of Pope John Paul II felled by a meteorite. For the Venice Biennale in 2001 Cattelan erected a replica HOLLYWOOD sign above a rubbish tip in Sicily; for the 2011 Biennale he populated the Palazzo delle Esposizioni with two thousand stuffed pigeons.
But of all Cattelan’s works, Bidibidobidiboo is the one I always come back to. It’s partly the pathos of the scene: a squirrel is slumped dead at his kitchen table, a gun beside him on the floor. The work is small – well, it’s a squirrel-sized scene – and can easily go unnoticed. But it’s at once funny and oddly touching; the story is there for the telling: the squirrel alone and suicidal in his slightly shabby and dated kitchen. He looks peaceful but we can imagine his despair even as we acknowledge the unlikeliness of his access to squirrel-sized firearms or his ability to operate them.
As his show at the Guggenheim closes, Maurizio Cattelan has announced his retirement from making art. Whether he means it or not, time will tell. On balance, I really rather hope he doesn’t.