Maurizio Cattelan’s Artpace project inverts the format of the International Artist-in-Residence Program. Rather than exhibiting his work in the gallery, the artist installed his project in Artpace’s artist apartment. To see the work, then, the viewer must visit the “private” zone of Artpace’s building. The West Flat—a fully furnished, self-contained apartment on the second floor—is the site of Cattelan’s installation. Inside the lived-in apartment, distant sounds of squeaky chipmunk-like voices emanate. Upon closer inspection the viewer finds a mouse hole discretely dug into the apartment wall. With a miniature trashcan in front, the hole is sealed with an equally small door. The sounds of a domestic fight, tempers flaring, are inside this tiny portal.
This tableaux relates to earlier works by Cattelan, particularly the emotionally charged Bidibidobidiboo (1996) in which a taxidermy-squirrel appears to have committed suicide. By reducing the human experience to a miniature scale, Cattelan exaggerates the fragility of life. Cattelan’s work balances a child-like innocence and humor with violence or death.
In Cattelan’s installation, the viewer searches for a world within a world, a domestic narrative within a domestic environment, under the roof of a public space. Finding the private conflict is unsettling even though it is presented in a comic manner. It is perhaps too familiar, evoking early memories of discovering the difference between the real and imaginary worlds. By dislocating the experience from the white cube of the gallery space to family environs, Cattelan shifts the art experience from the public realm into the personal. Yet at the same time, the private is made more public.
While on the surface Cattelan’s works entertain, on closer consideration the tragic condition of comedy unfolds. The artist reminds us that laughter heals—not as escape but as a release of our experiences.