Published on November 7, 2012 | by Elspeth Merry

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A dead political squirrel

Cattelan expresses his political views through art  [Helen Hasse]

Rating: ★★★★★

Nestled discretely in the bustling Whitechapel high street is the Whitechapel Gallery, a gold regal exterior positioned paradoxically between a KFC and an electronics shop.

For over a century, Whitechapel Gallery has premiered world-class artists and been a central point in showcasing the most vibrant contemporary art of the 21st Century.

Showcasing in one of the many exhibition rooms this winter is Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, his work featuring in the Collection Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, one of the most important private collections in Europe.

Born in 1960, Cattelan is known as the agent provocateur of the art world, addressing themes centring around death, dogma and power.In each corner of the rectangular exhibition room is one of Cattelan’s mismatched pieces, an air of randomness, but an accentuated centre point—a carpet named Il Bel Paese, meaning ‘the beautiful county’, portraying Italy.

But the words on the carpet paint a different picture; Formaggio Del Bel Paese, meaning ‘cheese of the beautiful country’ is embellished, as a prosthetic hand hangs from the ceiling—pointing with its middle finger down at Italy, all other fingers severed.

This stimulating piece perhaps represents Cattelan’s cynical and distorted view of his country. Was this a giant ‘fuck you’ to Italy?Cattelan’s theme of political scepticism runs throughout, with a giant sac of rubble positioned haphazardly which at first makes you wonder whether some builders have left it behind.

The piece is entitled Lullaby — an oxymoron it would seem at first, but in actual fact the heavy duty bag is filled with rubble from Milan’s Contemporary Art Pavilion destroyed by a Mafia-related bomb attack. This gives you a real sense of the depth, distress and intensity of Cattelan’s eye.

You are then drawn to a miniature family kitchen, with dirty dishes filling the sink, a tiny gun on the floor and a glass of water on the table — all of which set up the scene of a dead squirrel that has obviously committed suicide.

Named Bidibidobidiboo, a jumble of the words sung by the fairy godmother in Disney’s Cinderella;  this is a miniature version of the kitchen in which Cattelan grew up, creating a heavy poignancy — was Cattelan this unhappy as a child?

The title of the piece also exemplifies Cattelan’s sour wit, but the sculpture is a morose view of how he sees things. You also find yourself wondering why he has used a squirrel. Are squirrels not even safe in the world we live in today?

Elsewhere Cattelan typifies the issue of racism, by photographing an unusually long table football game with Northern African migrants playing against a team of all white northern Italian footballers.

The beautiful game that Cattelan mocks in his ‘beautiful countryemphasises his melancholic world-view and his provocative nature of challenging prejudices.Cattelan’s sculptures provide a humbling observation on social values and politics, but show his somewhat gloomy and sullen view on the shape of the world as it rests today.

The themes Cattelan is addressing are hard hitting, but you cannot help but marvel with mild humour over the suicide squirrel, with his miniature gun.

Perhaps more suited to the artistic aficionados — finding meaning in a squirrel might trouble the rest of us.

Running from September 25- December 2 at Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street  Whitechapel, London E1 7QX

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