Gucci and Maurizio Cattelan Open ‘The Artist Is Present’ Exhibition in Shanghai
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Charles Caleb Colton wrote in one of his essays hundreds of years ago. And while many a fashion designer will disagree with the statement (see: @diet_prada), Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan isn’t one of those. Even a brief glance at his latest exhibition created in collaboration with Gucci reveals Cattelan took Colton’s quote and ran with it. He ran all the way to the Yuz Muzeum in Shanghai, where The Artist Is Present opened yesterday.
As we announced in September, Gucci had covered walls of culture capitals of the world with murals promoting Cattelan’s future exhibition titled after Marina Abramovic’s seminal performance work. In doing so, the walls bared Abramovic’s face along with the shared title of the two projects. It was instantly clear that the exhibition will be focused on appropriation and originality in creative industries, topped off with a humorous twist. And so we were right. That is the exact the premise of the show: portraying the relationship between the original and the copy, the image and the reality; similar to what Magritte did with his surrealistic interpretations of the philosophy behind semantics.
You don’t need to look super deep into the archives to discover how referential the worlds of fashion and art are, and Alessandro Michele knows it. Always the one to openly celebrate the references he repackages into his collections for Gucci, Michele now worked with Cattelan on curating a large group of artists pushing this conversation beyond just historical imagery and signature fonts. The Artist Is Present tackles more sensitive subjects like cultural appropriation as well as the value of craft, therefore building a manifesto around the engagements a single idea creates within the society.
One of the most eye-catching pieces from the exhibition is a Gucci Sylvie bag. From afar, you might even think it came directly from Italy, made in the finest ruby red leather. But as you walk towards it, it becomes clear it’s actually a sculpture made out of Lego Bloks. The piece is work of a Andy Hung Chi-Kin, a 38-year-old China-born Lego Certified Professional whose job is to create Lego sculptures. Talk about childhood fantasies. His usual work includes recreations of architectural landmarks, but for this exhibition, he embarked on a challenge of creating a full-sized Sylvie handbag (gold chain and all). “The toughest part was trying to replicate the texture and shape of the leather to create similar lines and look to the bag,” the artist said after putting together over 1000 pieces of Lego together into a fabulous fashion accessory.
What made this experience different from his regular work? “For all of my Lego creations, I am always concerned with the creations’ resonating with my audience. I hope to bring happiness and meaning to the public.” And why Lego? “It is not only a toy for kids, but also a tool that can be used to create anything. As soon as we realise that Lego is a tool, its uses go beyond mere play. It is a universal tool that can be used to make anything that we can imagine. We can build our own creations with our own ideas and characters, to give it a life. It in-turn gives us a room to express.” Andy might hold the Guiness World Record for the Largest LEGO Ship, but a Gucci bag? That’s one for our books.
The Artist Is Present is opened until December 16th at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, China