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Jerry Saltz on Maurizio Cattelan’s Mysterious New Gallery

Family Business, at Anna Kustera Gallery.

The Force moves in mysterious ways. On the same night when the Gagosian Death Star's haughty, chutzpah-filled Damien Hirst spot-painting extravaganza opened worldwide, I saw an auspicious sign. Unable to muster the nerve to go inside Gagosian's bespotted 21st Street palace, I noticed something new just down the block: a double glass door at Anna Kustera Gallery on which a handwritten masking tape sign read "Family Business." I flagged down Kustera, who was having an opening of her own, and she came out, laughed, and said, "Oh. This is Maurizio Cattelan's new gallery." I was thrilled, and not just because it proved that Cattelan was a big liar.

Back up to last year. Just before opening his Guggenheim retrospective (which closes this Sunday), Cattelan stole his own thunder, announcing that he was going to stop making art. But wait — back up even further. In 2002, just as Chelsea was exploding with galleries, most of which were getting bigger and slicker, Cattelan and curators Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnik opened a hole-in-the-wall called the Wrong Gallery. The smallest gallery in New York, it was about three square feet located in a doorway at 516A West 20th Street, between a Jehovah's Witness hall and Andrew Kreps Gallery. Until 2005, the trio staged fabulous or head-scratching pop-up shows: Adam McEwan's sign that said "Fuck Off We're Closed," Elizabeth Peyton's large portrait-on-glass of Napoleon for Valentine's Day, Paul McCarthy's enormous Santa Butt Plug decorated with excrement, and Pawel Althamer's piece in which he hired Polish illegal immigrants to smash the glass with a baseball bat every Saturday.

Subotnik is now a curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, but Cattelan and Gioni are at it again. Family Business is the new Wrong Gallery. Nothing will be for sale, and the place is set up as a nonprofit. When I stopped in, Kustera opened the unlocked doors, and as I paced off the 9-by-14-foot empty space, I looked at what (I guess) is the gallery's first exhibition: a penny taped to the raw Sheetrock. Maybe it's the business's first earnings? Whatever. I've  already seen a pretty unofficial press release in which C&G describe the venture as "big brother of the Wrong Gallery ... a guest house ... a time share ... a non-for-profit space open to experimentation and irreverent exhibition formats ... a guest + a host = a ghost." Whatever it will be, it's scheduled to open in February with an exhibition organized by the artist Marilyn Minter called "The Virgin Show." As Minter wrote to me, "all the artists have never shown before ( they probably are still virgins too) and it is curated by Marilyn Minter who just happens to be a virgin." I looked at her list of potential artists and noticed it included a few "Born Again Virgins," as well. (I'm happy to see that Minter is as big a liar as Cattelan. Lying right now may be a creative force.) As Minter writes, "There will be a video monitor 24/7 with the first works of artists who have decided to become 'born again virgins' for the duration of the show."

It's good to think that Cattelan will be back to some sort of business, monkey or otherwise, and that this is one of the forms that it might take. Cattelan's practice has always been a many-splendored thing, in which he got involved with the exhibition, publishing, collecting, and making of art. That Cattelan was up to his old pranks never felt as good as it did that night, as I watched the limos come and go from Gagosian, dropping off very tall, very thin white women and older, very rich-looking white men. On that night when the one percent of the one percent held sway and the dark arts were flowing and the Death Star was taking aim, one way or another, I was reminded that the rest of us are all still involved in our own family businesses.

Photo: Jerry Saltz