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Get a Rope
Stringing up Maurizio Cattelan's work within the Guggenheim's rotunda took imagination and lots of 3D modeling.
A detail of Maurizio Cattelan: All on display at the Guggemheim through January 22.
Courtesy Guggenheim

Bad-boy Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan has made a career out of stunning the art scene with realistic sculptures that seek to unsettle the viewer by revealing just how unfair and out of whack the world can really be. Taking his naughty, iconoclastic nature into account, curators at the Guggenheim rejected the idea of presenting the artist’s work in a traditional chronological retrospective. Instead, they decided to hang representations of all of his pieces since 1989 within the museum’s famous rotunda. The result is Maurizio Cattelan: All, a sort of anarchistic mobile collage that visitors can view as they ascend the building’s spiraling ramps.

While Cattelan’s work itself may cast an oblique eye on the world of authority figures, death, and self loathing, the Guggenheim’s fabrication and installation team consulted with structural engineers, worked with mockups and 3-D models, and ran multiple tests to make sure that the collection of scandalizing sculptures hung upright and plomb.

Left to right: a detail of the installation's varied objects, a detail of the structure hanging from the Guggemheim's dome, and an overall view showing the scale of the installation in the Museum's atrium.
Molly Heintz / AN (left, center) and Courtesy Guggenheim (right)

The team’s first concern was whether the oculus at the pinnacle of the rotunda had the capacity to support the installation’s 11-ton dead weight. Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture may be inspiring and unique, but the 1950s construction is not as robust as a rigger might wish. Working with structural engineering firm Gilsanz Murray Steficek, the team designed a system of 12 cables that connect the cantilevered columns that support the oculus to an aluminum ring truss structure and grid. Each of Cattelan’s sculptures was then hung individually upon bespoke cables from the ring truss and grid.


Since there was the possibility of overloading one part of the structure, the team installed load-monitoring systems to each of the 12 cables. They also employed a synchronized motor system that can either raise and lower the installation as a whole, or relieve the tension on individual cables should the weight become too much, thus distributing the load to other parts of the structure.

To execute the lift, the team first assembled the ring truss on the rotunda floor. Once this was done, they lifted the truss and began to attach the sculptures: a taxidermy horse, a Pinocchio puppet, Pope Paul John II, and an effigy of the artist himself among them. This was done in four stages, with the higher up sculptures hung first, and the lower ones hung later, until the entire installation was complete. Again, nothing was left to chance. Before hanging the sculptures, the entire installation had been assembled in a 1/12th scale model, allowing the team to make sure that the cables supporting the lower sculptures did not interfere with the motion of the higher sculptures. Or endanger the record gawking crowds.

All closes on January 22, but Maurizo Cattelan will be on hand at the Guggenheim TONIGHT, Monday January 9, from 6pm to 8:15pm to sign copies of the exhibition catalogue.

Aaron Seward