As you enter Maurizio Cattelan’s curation of The Artist is Present, there are columns of texts exploring the idea of copying. The very first column details how our very existence is a copy: “each and every one of us started saying ‘Mom’ trying to imitate the sound of the word we heard our own Mom saying.” Another recounts a story where famed comedian Charlie Chaplin participated in a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest, but was ranked third. “Someone different than him was more than himself,” the text read. Before you even begin experiencing the first artwork, you’re bogged down by ideas that have probably never occured to you.
But we promise that The Artist is Present is not heavy on psychological and ideological theories.
Powered by Italian fashion house Gucci, Maurizio Cattelan’s exhibition explores the idea of ‘copy’ by copying. Let us explain. The title of the exhibition is a direct appropriation of a famous work. The name of the work might not be familiar, but chances are, you would have probably seen this viral video being circulated around your social media feeds.
The Artist is Present (the original) is essentially performance artist Marina Abramović’s 2010 work at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The 736-hour and 30-minute performance involved her sitting silently in front of strangers, who take their turns for mostly five minutes at a time. No contact or talking was allowed but Abramović herself made contact early in the performance when her former lover and artistic partner Uwe Laysiepen, made a surprise appearance—that’s the part of the performance that went viral.
Maurizio Cattelan’s The Artist is Present takes the title as well as a photo of Abramović during her solo performance as the image for the exhibition. There are no other references to Abramović throughout the exhibition, which begs the question: is this exhibition then, having taken the image and title of a previous work, still considered a copy even though its contents are vastly different? It’s a question that can be asked of so many claims of appropriation and copying in the fashion industry.
Save for a couple of Gucci-related pieces, the exhibition is more art than fashion. But it does reveal a bit about how Gucci sees itself in the world of luxury fashion. Alessandro Michele, after all, is no stranger to getting inspired by a wide range of sources, and at times have been accused of appropriation. Yet, when these references are jumbled and curated into a collection, they are original ideas as a whole. Or are they really? Just like art, we figure that it’s all about context and seeing things in a different perspective. What is original anymore, anyway?
Maurizio Cattelan’s The Artist is Present, an exhibition powered by Gucci, runs until 16 December 2018 at the Yuz Museum, 35 Fenggu Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China. Check out some of the works on display in the gallery above.