Toiletpaper Magazine: The Artist as Editor

I first encountered Maurizio Cattelan’s oeuvre in 2010, when his sculpture L.O.V.E. (an 11-metre tall middle finger made of Carrara marble) was installed in front of Milan’s stock exchange (additional info here). Little did I know that, more than 8 years later, I would end up writing my dissertation about him, now the most-paid living Italian artist. In today’s post, I am going to talk about another of Cattelan’s 2010 projects. This is Toiletpaper Magazine, a picture publication created in collaboration with photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari.

Toiletpaper issues are published bi-annually and contain no written content. The focus is on images, brightly coloured spreads made by Ferrari and inspired by Cattelan’s distinctively whimsical style. Unlike some of his most controversial works (such as Him, a depiction of Hitler kneeling in prayer, or La Nona Ora, which represents Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite), Toiletpaper appears peculiarly light in tone and lacks the somber aura found in much of Cattelan’s humour. The result is light-hearted, entertaining, and visually pleasing.

Toiletpaper is not Cattelan’s first experiment with editorial projects. In the early 2000s, he launched Permanent Food together with Paola Manfrin. The magazine was made of images and articles borrowed (some might say stolen) from commercial magazines and re-arranged to create peculiar juxtapositions. As for Toiletpaper, absurdism played a key role in providing entertainment, even though the final result was far less polished than Ferrari’s carefully curated spreads. In both cases, the artist emerges as the project’s editor-in-chief, rather than the maker. This is a constant throughout Cattelan’s career since he does not physically make his own works of art, hiring specialised craftsmen to execute his designs.

Over the years, Cattelan gained a controversial reputation as one of the art world’s most successful pranksters. In the words of Frieze Magazine author Jenny Liu, he is “part clown, part sage – a cunning instigator clothed as comic idiot savant.” Toiletpaper Magazine, with its visually appealing but shallow imagery, follows the same narrative thread. Far from a waste of time, Toiletpaper is a way for Cattelan to advance his aesthetic while also profiting from it. Indeed, through the magazine’s webshop fans may buy all sorts of trinkets inspired by the publication’s kitsch style, from furniture to candles and tote bags.

In a 2003 interview with Kultureflash, Cattelan declared that “today we mostly see art through photos and reproductions. So in the end it almost doesn’t matter where the actual piece is.” Toiletpaper Magazine brings this statement to a full realisation. Most of Cattelan’s works of art present punchy imagery and shocking subjects used to forcibly grab the viewer’s attention. Moving into the realm of art publications, he created a toned-down product that repackages his style, making it ready for mass consumption.

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Alessandro M. Rubin Written by:

Cambridge History of Art alumnus. Passionate early-modernist, curious about contemporary art and aesthetic theory.

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