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Dismantling Copycat Culture With Maurizio Cattelan’s Gucci-Backed Art Exhibition

By Bianca Husodo


In a time when the lines between appropriation and originality are blurred, Gucci is tackling the matter head on with an art exhibition curated by elusive Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Starting from 11 October, The Artist is Present will be open to public at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai for two months. The title is a deliberate borrowing of artist Marina Abramović’s same-named solo performance in 2010 for MoMA which gained critical acclaim for instigating cultural dialogues at the time.

Art wall posters were unveiled in different parts of the world — Manhattan’s SoHo neighbourhood, Milan’s Largo la Foppa, East London’s Brick Lane — featuring a painted replica of Abramović’s hypnotic gaze that was synonymous to the artist’s cover artwork, which spurred thousands of visitors to line up for a shared one-on-one silence with the artist. The only striking difference? Where Abramović’s name was originally printed, Cattelan’s name took place as its headline. Despite the evident influence, Abramović is not affiliated, nor will her work be, with the exhibition. This witty visual punch on appropriation is an encapsulation of what Cattelan is bringing to the table with his curation.

GucciA mural replica of Marina Abramović’s poster for The Artist is Present, 2010.
A mural replica of Marina Abramović’s poster for The Artist is Present, 2010.

Set in Shanghai, the homeland of counterfeit luxury goods, Cattelan rallied more than thirty artists — foreign and Chinese — who will show site-specific and existing works centering on simulacra and copies as the norm of global culture. Here, the sacred principles of art in the modern era — originality, intention and expression — are eschewed for an open approach towards appropriation. The show delves into the duality of originality: how it can be cultivated through repetition and how originals are often preserved via copies.

“Copying is like a blasphemy: it could seem not respectful towards God, but at the same time is the significative recognition of its existence,” quipped Cattelan. To him — and perhaps the subconscious of modern society at large — the purist concept of counterfeit is unsustainable. At a time where nothing is completely original, there is an urgency to shift traditional paradigms.

Creative director Alessandro Michele’s work for Gucci lies in parallel to this. The forward-thinking designer extracts existing elements from classical mythology, scribbles Guccy (yes, with a Y) in neon on handbags, creates memes as ad campaigns, invites Instagram fashion critic Diet Prada to shows. As does Cattelan, Michele understands full well the need for new rules in this age of fluidity. And perhaps the answer lies in a redefinition of originality.

Gucci and Maurizio Cattelan’s The Artist is Present exhibition will run from 11 October till 16 December 2018 at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai.