This review appeared on artforum.com.
Maurizio Cattelan’s 2011 retrospective at the Guggenheim, emphatically titled “All,” was meant to be his last show. But with “Amen” at the Center for Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw, he appears to have risen from his ashes. Although none of the pieces on view had been made specifically for this show (all were featured in the Guggenheim retrospective), the particular context into which they have been inserted—that of a still predominantly Catholic Poland struggling to come to terms with the traumas of the past century—gives these familiar works a new resonance. In contrast to the monstrous retrospective in New York that, in its aim to be exhaustive, brought together 128 pieces, “Amen” assembles a small but well-judged selection of works made between 1999 and 2011.
Spread across two gallery rooms and outside of the Ujazdowski Castle, with a coda in a tenement house at 14 Próżna Street, the eight works included in the exhibition are thematically interconnected. Religious symbolism predictably dominates this show, whose shock value will not be lost on its intended audience. Yet the Christ figures visible here—in Untitled, 2007, a life-size resin cast of a crucified woman with her back to us, and in Untitled, 2009, a taxidermied horse in agony with a sign displaying the acronym INRI sticking out from its flank—also speak of domestic violence perpetrated against women and evoke Polish patriotism associated with the horse in an iconographic tradition that includes Rembrandt’s Polish Rider. Patriotism and the need to protect the most vulnerable members of family and society, namely children, are again gestured at in two more Untitled works, dated 2004 and 2007, featuring respectively the effigy of a child hanging on a pole in lieu of a flag and two taxidermied dogs guarding a chick, placed at the start of the exhibition.
Him, 2001, the chilling epilogue in “Amen,” moves beyond the confines of the galleries in which the piece is typically displayed, instead occupying the ground floor of the dilapidated Próżna Street tenement house, in what was once the Warsaw Ghetto. Seen in this setting, Cattelan’s instantly recognizable Hitler in the guise of a supplicant child challenges us to ponder afresh the meaning of that most Christian of virtues: forgiveness.