Is there such a thing as art too dreadful for human hearts to bear? Yes, says an Art Newspaper report. The very idea of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s 9/11 memorial, even 20 years after the fact, was thought “too emotionally fraught” by the chief curator at the Guggenheim Museum. (More about that in a moment).

Familiar name

You may recognize the artist’s name for his absurd exhibit of a banana duct-taped to a wall at the Art Basel exhibit in Miami in 2019, and his equally absurd 18-carat gold toilet he titled America at the Guggenheim Museum.

Given his current work, can it be that he’s trying to be weighty now?

Cattelan calls his sculpture Breathe Ghosts Blind for its three parts beginning with a Carrara marble male figure crouched like a fetus next to a dog. This is the part called Breathe. Then comes stuffed pigeons tagged Ghosts. And finally. there’s a soaring black resin replica of a nuclear warhead pointing upward, as if emerging from a silo. This is called Blind.

Such his idea that Guggenheim’s chief curator Nancy Spector considered “too emotionally fraught” when it was presented to her in 2017. A gallery in Milan has since taken it on, and as she explained in an essay for the Milan show, Cattelan's idea of representing the horror could be “toxic, particularly in New York City.

Stuffed pigeons

But wait, there’s nothing in Cattelan’s 3-part concoction that conjures up the 2,606 people pulverized into dust by the felled Twin Towers. Ditto the towering warhead. There was nothing nuclear about the attack. As for the stuffed pigeons and man lying in a fetal position next to a dog, they don’t conjure up the horror, either.

It’s all too unintelligible to get upset about.

Isn’t it odd, though, that the Guggenheim didn’t hesitate exhibiting Cattelan’s gold toilet, even purchasing it for its collection, yet worried about exhibiting his commemoration of a terrorist attack? Maybe Spector was remembering Eric Fischl’s sculpture “Tumbling Woman” – a figure posed upside down to represent those who jumped to their death from the crumbling towers.

Fishcl’s work had to be uninstalled from its perch in Rockefeller Center because Manhattanites couldn’t stand the sight. But there’s no danger of revulsion with Cattelan’s memorial. It’s too unreadable for that.

'Project X'

Asked why he’s showing Breathe Ghosts Blind in Milan, Catellan said the work can be “evocative of many things,” not just the tragedy in NY. OK, I admit to an evocation on seeing his warhead rising as if out of a silo - a scene in the 1987 sci-fi movie Project X.

The movie plot had the U.S. Airforce training chimps to operate flight simulators only to expose them to lethal doses of radiation to gauge how long a human pilot can survive to retaliate. To intensify the scene, an atomic bomb slowly rises from a trap door in the floor behind the chimp.

Now that’s a killer image! Cattelan’s Breathe Ghosts Blind is plainly a dud.

Unfortunately, even commemorative exhibits in NY’s 9/11 Memorial Museum have also fizzled. Art Daily reports that all special exhibits are canceled owing to shortfalls from lack of attendance – the result of the pandemic.

Silly stuff

Final word on Cattelan. Given his gold toilet, banana duct-taped to wall, and now his homage to horror, I see him as Italy’s version of Damien Hirst of dead-animals-in-formaldehyde fame. He’ll do anything for attention.