Analysis of Maurizio Cattelan's "Bidibidobidiboo"

General / 29 October 2018

Maurizio Cattelan is an Italian artist whose background has led him to develop a large collection of artwork that showcases death in various eclectic ways.  Over the years, his exhibits in London and New York have gained a significant amount of attention because of the bizarre content and methods of display shown in his work.  A notable work is Bidibidobidiboo, which entails a scene of a stuffed squirrel slouching over a table with a gun on the floor nearby.  The apparent suicide in the scene hints at a mystery of the cause, but it also exhibits potential clues scattered around the scene.  Without a doubt, death is a consistent theme in Cattelan's collection of work, as is the use of techniques like taxidermy.  As a result of such a sensitive topic, response to his art has received attention at both ends of the spectrum: praise and disapproval, yet it is truly captivating.

Link to image of referenced artwork by Cattelan: https://www.perrotin.com/artists/Maurizio_Cattelan/2/bidibidobidiboo/5495

Growing up through "economic hardship at home, punishment at school, and a string of unfulfilling, menial jobs,"[1] as noted by Guggenheim curators Nancy Spector and Katherine Brinson, may have had an impact on Cattelan's defiant and brazen approach to his artwork.  Regardless, the display of death is a very evident part of his work whether it is meant to be seen as a horrific reality or bizarre humor.  Many of his works include animals that have died and been stuffed through a taxidermy process, such as the squirrel in Bidibidobidiboo.  His exhibits in galleries, such as the Tate and Whitechapel galleries in London, as well as the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, have been so overwhelming with his display of death that art critics who have visited, like Richard Cork, have noted "death appears inescapable here."[2]  These exhibits also included work with a similar theme by other artists, but it must have been difficult to avoid thinking of mortality and carnage walking amidst Cattelan's exhibitions.

Cattelan's Bidibidobidiboo is a fascinating depiction of death that appears to suggest a mysterious backstory.  All of the scene elements are sized relative to the squirrel's size, so it is a small exhibit and requires viewers to crouch down close to it for further investigation of the details, such as the nearby gun on the ground.  The empty glass on the table is evidence of some consumed beverage, and its small size could reference a shot glass for alcohol.  The empty chair pushed away from the table points to a being that sat there at some point but is now gone.  The dirty dishes in the sink on the wall note either a recent meal with others or the squirrel's disregard to tend to them.  The other wall-mounted feature has the appearance of a water heater, though it is difficult to gauge what it may have contributed to the squirrel's death.  Nevertheless, all of the elements compose a clear scene of a kitchen and dining area where death has made a presence, particularly because of the gun and squirrel's pose.  It may not mean that the squirrel committed suicide, but that in its contemplation of it, it could have ended up in a drunken stupor.

Documented art reviews of his exhibits shed some light on the composition of the scene in Bidibidobidiboo and the response to it.  For instance, art critics Ben Luke and Mark Brown established that Cattelan recalled his childhood table for the one in this exhibit.[3,4]  Others, like Mark Irving referenced the exhibits in which Cattelan partcipated as embodying "fantasy and humour as the vehicles for their personal concerns and experiences."[5]  Even Tate Gallery curator Simon Wilson  mentioned a very similar thought of the same exhibit, noting "fantasy and humour."[6]  When these perspectives are synthesized together, there is a noticeable personal connection of Cattelan with his art that forms his experience.  But for a viewer's experience of his art, the bizarre content often leans toward the surreal so much that it reveals absurdity.  To some, this translates to a sense of forward-looking humor reflecting on memories, but there are others who may render this as "unfunny jokes and juvenile symbolism,"[7] as expressed by art reviewer John Derbyshire in his visit to Cattelan's 2012 exhibit at the Guggenheim in New York City.

The experience by each viewer of Cattelan's Bidibidobidiboo is undoubtedly unique and can span an entire range of emotions because of the intensity that is conveyed through the theme of death.  Nonetheless, it makes one think and reflect on one's own mortality and level of comfort with such thoughts.  Personally, I see Bidibidobidiboo as a amusing joke of death meant to push aside the dark thoughts and memories that typically accompany it.  Furthermore, saying the title when I first encountered this artwork selection resonated with a memory that I could not clearly define until I encountered Mark Brown's reference of "Bidibidobidiboo, the spell used to transform Cinderella."[8] In confirming this, I discovered that the title does resemble it, although Disney titles the song of the spell as "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo."[9] This may be some strange coincidence not intended by Cattelan, but I can see this as another clue to the mystery of the scene wherein transformation, which was the case in the Cinderella song, contributes to the squirrel's confrontation with death.

Citations

[1] Nancy Spector and Katherine Brinson, "Maurizio Cattelan: All," Exhibitions, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, accessed October 15, 2017, https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/maurizio-cattelan-all.

[2] Richard Cork, "Gonna reach out and grab ya," The Times (London), July 14, 1999, Features.

[3] Ben Luke, "An Italian agent provacateur at play," Evening Standard, September 27, 2012, 48.

[4] Mark Brown, "Who dunnit? Classics from art's joker given rare London show," The Guardian, September 26, 2012, 15.

[5] Mark Irving, "Review Abracadabra Tate Gallery, London," The Scotsman, July 22, 1999, 19.

[6] Jackie Burdon, "It's everyday art, says Tate as it tries to flog a dead horse," Birmingham Post, July 13, 1999, 7.

[7] John Derbyshire, "The Higher Silliness," National Review 64, no. 2 (February 2, 2012): 51.

[8] Brown, "Who dunnit?" 15.

[9] Disney, "Cinderella | Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo | Lyric Video | Disney Sing Along," uploaded July 28, 2014, video, 0:44, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXJvxEHSv5E.