All, an unconventional retrospective of artist Maurizio Cattelan opened at the Guggenheim in New York on November 4, and with it, appropriately, the museum released its first mobile application to support the exhibition. Although a little late to the app game (with Google, galleries, and other museums paving the way), the Guggenheim Cattelan application succeeds in providing such wonderful supplementary and background information on the show, it perfectly bolsters the impact of its presentation.
Cattelan, an Italian sculptor, is known for his cheeky, subversive work, which ranges greatly in form and material. He is still alive, and only 51, but with All, he is choosing to retire from making art, marking the Guggenheim installation as the end of his career. As with much of his work, he chose to go out in rare form, undermining art world conventions. Within Frank Lloyd Wright's spiraling museum, nearly all (128 pieces) of Cattelan's body of work is displayed in the center void, each piece hanging from wires at varying heights. When shown individually, much of his sculpture is dependent on the surrounding environment that it inhabits. Here, every object has been removed from context, floating in mid-air, surrounded by unrelated works in time, category, or subject matter.
Works include a wax figure of Cattelan hanging by a Joseph Beuys felt suit jacket from a coatrack; a Picasso-as-mascot giant papier-machéd head worn by an actor for an exhibition at MoMA; several cutely curled-up, sleeping, taxidermied dogs; and a flattened Pinnochio figure, first shown stuck to the Guggenheim's floor in the rotunda in which it now hangs.
This cacophony of Cattelan's work requires some help to get through, and the Guggenheim has done well by pulling in the abilities of the Ipad and Android to bring it all together. Hosted by the cult filmmaker John Waters, it both sets and supports a similar tone to Cattelan's work—playful, subversive, and seemingly tossed together, yet obviously very considered. Waters introduces the app from a formal living room setting in a two-minute bit, and further in, also provides brief phrases and statements (3-20 seconds) about each of the works.
In the "Works on View" section, the app allows for something a viewer can't actually get with just visiting the physical show itself—an interactive experience of the work. In the app, the hanging mass of work is shown as-is in the museum, and users can float along with it, moving around and zooming in on objects. Once zoomed in, two clicks on a work lead to a description of it, how it was first presented, and often, a little audio blurb from Waters.
The section "About the Exhibition" provides more of an in-depth overview of the artist and retrospective, with videos of Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector discussing Cattelan and the process in deciding to present his work hung.
"The Installation" is one of the most interesting sections in the app from a design perspective, including video revealing the intensive creation of the show. Conservators, technicians and fabricators discuss the challenges in wrangling the extensive range of work methodically and carefully, in order to give the impression of artwork 'dangling' from wires on the ceiling. Specific, custom supports had to be built for each object, and a giant circular truss was engineered to hang from the ceiling to hold it all, including motors for monitoring and balancing the load of the work.
More background on Cattelan is given in the "Working with Maurizio" section, including video interviews of gallerists, collaborators and associates discussing working with the artist and his process. The "Actions and Projects" section gives a further look at Cattelan's past endeavors.
The Cattelan app is, for once, a decent trade-off for those who cannot physically see the retrospective. For those planning to visit the Cattelan exhibition, the app serves as a great introduction to a show that might seem immediately overwhelming otherwise. And for the first time, I can imagine using an app while viewing art as adding to the experience rather than taking away from it, walking up the Guggenheim's spiral with phone or tablet in hand, zooming in and learning about all the elements, even if obscured or small.
During the first week of the exhibition, November 4-11, 2011, the app is available for a special discounted price—$1.99 phone, $3.99 tablet. Download the app here.
The physical exhibition runs at the Guggenheim through January 22, 2012.