Following his first solo exhibition in China, hosted to great acclaim at UCCA Beijing, leading Italian contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan continues his exploration of human emotions and relationships with a new exhibition in Shenzhen featuring more than 20 works, including sculptures, murals, a performance, and an interactive installation specially reimagined for the exhibition space.
From July 9 to October 10, 2022, UCCA presents “Maurizio Cattelan: Wish You Were Here” in collaboration with Shenzhen’s Sea World Culture and Arts Center. This exhibition by artist Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960, Padua, Italy) continues a journey through China begun by “The Last Judgment,” his first solo exhibition in the country, which opened at UCCA Beijing last year. Building off of the Beijing exhibition, “Wish You Were Here” has been specifically tailored for the new context of Shenzhen. One of the most popular and controversial contemporary artists working today, in this exhibition Cattelan presents more than 20 artworks, including sculptures, murals, and a performance. The exhibition also features site-specific installations, including a new work and a reimagining of a classic interactive installation by the artist. In Cattelan’s trademark playful and thought-provoking manner, these inspiring artworks further extend his explorations into human desire and longing. The exhibition is curated by Francesco Bonami, organized by the UCCA exhibitions team, and co-presented by UCCA and SWCAC.
Cattelan’s artistic practice is rooted in his own life experiences as well as his keen observation of society, specifically how we as individuals relate to others. His provocative, often mocking and prank-like artworks can be as shocking as they are heartfelt and touching. The artist is particularly adept at using the relationship between an artwork and its surrounding environment—whether its physical location or social context—to generate spectacle, stimulating interactions between art and audience, building emotional resonance, and encouraging further reflection on the part of the viewer. At its heart, Cattelan’s work is all about human connection, how we as individuals may reach out and bond with those around us. As the entire world faces trying times, and many of us are separated, unable to travel and meet as we once did, this theme has become more urgent than ever before.
With this in mind, Cattelan selected the postcard slogan “Wish You Were Here” as the exhibition title. The expression is a bittersweet one: on the hand, it is linked to wanderlust, to the human desire to experience new realities and unknown spaces. Yet these words are also a statement of loneliness. We always want to share our journeys and the sights we witness with someone else. Fittingly, artworks in the exhibition oscillate between flights of fancy and more serious self-reflection, touching upon a wide range of topics, from how fate, love, faith, and consumerism may affect our lives, to questions regarding immigrant identity and family relationships. Through his practice, Cattelan voices his concerns over humanity’s spiritual and emotional wellbeing within the tumult of the contemporary world and life in rapidly changing societies (whether the Italy of his youth or today’s China). These considerations take on added weight in Shenzhen—as China’s first special economic zone, the city is a major destination for internal migration, a symbol of the country’s Reform and Opening Up policies, and a byword for accelerated economic development. After only a few decades of existence, it is now a major economic center. In a city that changes almost every day, the artist hopes that visitors may engage in dialogue with the works, reflecting on shared memories of Shenzhen’s development to ponder how our emotional needs have evolved alongside social, economic, and cultural norms.
“Wish You Were Here” invites viewers on a fascinating, often hilarious, journey, its open-ended exhibition design drawing them into the space and narratives produced by Cattelan’s artworks. The exhibition not only brings together some of the artist’s key early works, such as Lessico Familiare (1989) and the neon sign Catttelan (1994), but also presents a number of celebrated recent pieces, such as the duct-taped banana Comedian (2019), which upon its debut prompted worldwide debate on the nature and value of art. Other works on display illustrate Cattelan’s ability to work across different moods and materials, offering a broader perspective on his diverse practice. For example, in Mini-Me (1999) and Spermini (1997) he upends the contemporary art cliché of blowing objects up in size, shrinking down avatars of himself to interrogate personal identity. The taxidermied pigeons that silently observe the exhibition from Kids (2021) and two versions of Nothing (2021) take on an expansive range of meanings, while the skeleton of a dog that holds a newspaper in its mouth in Untitled (1997) speaks to Cattelan’s belief in the power of love and faithfulness. In his approach towards conceptualism, childhood memories and everyday objects are sublimated into relatable, universal experiences. Daddy, Daddy (2008) is inspired by the story of Pinocchio, and indeed its depiction of the puppet’s brightly colored body reflects a kind of lighthearted childhood innocence; yet the puppet’s positioning facedown in a pool of water speaks to darker shades of adult disillusionment. On a more upbeat note, in Untitled (2008), Cattelan grows plants out of a pair of boots, using mundane materials to create an atmosphere of magical realism, romantically imagining humanity and nature growing in harmony.
For this exhibition the artist has also specially combined two previous works, Dynamo Secession (1997) and Yes! (2019), into a site-specific interactive installation. Visitors may pedal the stationary bicycles of Dynamo Secession, powering an electrical generator which then illuminates Yes!—a light bulb in the shape of the artist’s head. Thus Cattelan transforms what was once a jokey exposé of the art world’s inner workings (the original version saw security guards at the Vienna Secession powering lights in the museum’s basement) into an examination of his personality and its contradictions, wherein self-doubt coexists with confidence, and a desire for attention battles with a fear of the spotlight. Ciao (2022) reinterprets a performance that Cattelan first presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1998 and reprised at UCCA Beijing in 2021. In the original, a performer wore a Picasso mask as they interacted with museum visitors; here they don a caricature version of Cattelan’s head. Though still critiquing the commercialization of the art world, Cattelan now sets his sights on himself, questioning his own complicity in these processes, as well as his role and responsibility as a global representative of Italian culture.
As the follow-up to his first solo exhibition in China, Cattelan hopes that “Wish You Were Here” might help him form a special connection with audiences in Shenzhen, even across great distances in this time of separation. In his own words, “‘Wish You Were Here’ is my postcard to you. I hope it brings you joy, excitement, inspiration, and desire to connect with others through art. I hope it is a wonderful journey that can leave a mark in your memory. And I hope you are there.”
Support and Sponsorship
UCCA thanks co-presenting institution Sea World Culture and Arts Center and the supervising body for this exhibition, the Publicity Department of the CPC Nanshan District Committee, Shenzhen. The Consulate General of Italy in Guangzhou provides special support, and Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle provides exhibition support. Support for the opening reception is provided by Four Seasons Hotel Shenzhen. UCCA also thanks tea and beverage partner Nayuki Tea & Bakery, chief exhibition collaborating short video platform Douyin, and chief exhibition collaborating social media platform Xiaohongshu for their support.
Earlier this year, UCCA published a unique catalogue celebrating Maurizio Cattelan’s first-ever solo exhibition in China: “The Last Judgment,” held at UCCA Beijing. With many of the artworks shown in Beijing reappearing in Shenzhen, the publication may also provide readers with an in-depth contextualization of “Wish You Were Here.” Cattelan proposed an unconventional approach for the catalogue, one benefiting his idiosyncratic artistic practice: no photographs of the exhibition’s artworks appear in the book. Instead, each work is represented by an original painting by illustrator Wang Buke. These illustrations relocate the artworks to locations around Beijing—some iconic, some mundane. The catalogue also contains a foreword by UCCA Director Philip Tinari, a conversation between the artist and exhibition curator Francesco Bonami, and an essay by Central Academy of Fine Arts associate professor Zhang Chen, as well as extensive annotations on each exhibited artwork. Maurizio Cattelan: The Last Judgment is published by Zhejiang Photographic Press, and book design is provided by 26 Studio (Yang Shaozhun and Leng Jing). Purchase your copy at SWCAC or online at Paragon Book Gallery’s WeChat Store.
A series of public programs will be held in conjunction with “Maurizio Cattelan: Wish You Were Here,” focusing on the artist’s practice and its connection with personal relationships. These programs aim to deepen the audience’s understanding of Cattelan’s work, providing varied perspectives through a regular series of events organized in collaboration with partners from different disciplines. Over the three-month exhibition period, UCCA and SWCAC will present two academic panels, a film event, an eleven-a-side foosball tournament, and a number of workshops. A special collaborative comedy project will also be unveiled during the exhibition. We hope that these diverse, multidisciplinary programs can help create a fun, relaxed atmosphere for visitors to learn more about how Cattelan satirizes the art world, as well as how we form relationships with others. Please refer to UCCA and SWCAC’s official websites, WeChat accounts, and other social media platforms for event times, further details, and updates.
About the Artist
Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960, Padua, Italy) is one of the most popular as well as controversial artists on the contemporary art scene. Taking freely from the real world of people and objects, his works are an irreverent operation aimed at both art and institutions. His playful and provocative use of materials, objects, and gestures set in challenging contexts forces commentary and engagement. Active since the late 1980s, in 1993 he participated in the Aperto section of the Venice Biennale, where he rented out his space to an advertising company. Cattelan first achieved notoriety on an international scale with La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour), a wax statue of Pope John Paul II hit by a meteorite, which was originally exhibited in 1999 at Kunsthalle Basel. Since 2010, L.O.V.E., a public art intervention permanently installed in Piazza Affari, Milan, has triggered residents’ re-appropriation of an otherwise forgotten square. In that same year, Cattelan launched a biannual, picture-based publication, TOILETPAPER, created together with the photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari. In 2011, he provoked lively debate with an installation of two thousand stuffed pigeons, presented at the 54th Venice Biennale. Cattelan was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York that same year, in which all his works were suspended from the ceiling. After the exhibition he announced his temporary retirement as an artist. He returned in September 2016, when he replaced a toilet in the same museum’s restroom with a fully functional replica cast in 18-karat gold, entitled America and made available to the public for a year. Later in 2016, he was invited to stage an exhibition of his most important works at Monnaie de Paris, resulting in the retrospective “Not Afraid of Love.” In 2018, he curated, with support from Gucci, “The Artist is Present,” a group show at Yuz Museum in Shanghai which questioned the most hallowed principles of art in the modern era: originality, intention, and expression. A solo exhibition comprised of his major works was held at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, in 2019; on the night of the opening America was stolen by unknown thieves. Cattelan once again stimulated worldwide discussion about the nature and value of art in December 2019, when he debuted his work Comedian, a banana duct-taped to the wall of a gallery booth at Art Basel Miami Beach. In 2021, at Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan, he presented the major new work Blind, a black monolith with the form of an airplane struck through it, serving as a memorial to the September 11 attacks that occurred twenty years earlier.
About the Curator
Francesco Bonami was born in Florence, Italy. He was the artistic director of the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. He is currently the artistic director of By Art Matters in Hangzhou.
UCCA Center for Contemporary Art is China’s leading contemporary art institution. Committed to bringing the best in art to a wider audience, UCCA shares a wide range of exhibitions, public programs, and research initiatives to a public of more than one million visitors each year across three locations. UCCA Beijing sits at the heart of the 798 Art District, occupying 10,000 square meters of factory chambers built in 1957 and regenerated in 2019 by OMA. UCCA Dune, designed by Open Architecture, lies beneath the sand in the seaside enclave of Aranya in Beidaihe. UCCA Edge, designed by New York-based architecture firm SO – IL, opened in Shanghai in May 2021. Formally accredited as a museum by the Beijing Cultural Bureau in 2018, UCCA also operates non-profit foundations, licensed by the Beijing Bureau of Civil Affairs and the Hong Kong government. UCCA’s commercial ventures include the retail platform UCCA Store, the children’s education initiative UCCA Kids, and collaborations and projects under the rubric UCCA Lab. Opened in 2007 and revived by a committed group of Chinese and international patrons in 2017, UCCA works to bring China into global dialogue through contemporary art.
About Sea World Culture and Arts Center
Located in Shekou, Shenzhen, the Sea World Culture and Arts Center (SWCAC) is a hub for culture and commerce launched by China Merchants Shekou, with London's Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) as its founding partner. SWCAC is committed to creating diverse cultural experiences for the public through a variety of hybrid formats such as exhibitions, performing arts, public education, and commerce. As the only building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki in China to date, SWCAC embraces the horizons of the sea, mountains, and city that surround it.
Opened in December 2017, SWCAC has become a key cultural landmark in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area. It was listed as Top Gallery in Shenzhen by Lonely Planet in 2019 and one of the World’s 100 Greatest Places by Time magazine in 2018.
In 2021, SWCAC held 48 exhibitions and nearly 200 educational events, including “Leandro Erlich: The Confines of the Great Void,” “The Mythical Animals in the Forbidden City,” “Gaetano Pesce: Nobody’s Perfect,” and “Fashioned from Nature,” attracting over one million visitors.
Porcelain, LED light bulb
17.8 × 12.7 × 9.5 cm
Courtesy the artist
Wooden frame, nine taxidermied pigeons, 24-karat gold-plated stainless steel
245 × 190 × 40 cm
Photograph by Zeno Zotti
Courtesy the artist
Wooden frame, five taxidermied pigeons, 24-karat gold-plated stainless steel
204 × 120 × 35 cm
Photograph by Zeno Zotti
Courtesy the artist
Dog skeleton, newspaper
45 × 70 × 30 cm
Photograph by Attilio Maranzano
Courtesy the artist
24-karat gold-plated bronze
49 × 40.5 × 18 cm
Photograph by Tom Lindboe
Courtesy the artist
Epoxy resin, 24-karat gold-plated aluminum
40.7 × 15.5 × 16 cm
Courtesy the artist
Banana ,duct tape
Courtesy UCCA Center for Contemporary Art
Wood, acrylic, steel, paper, plastic
1 × 6.51 × 1.2 m
Courtesy the artist