Two of the art world’s most famous and polarizing male provocateurs—the American artist and filmmaker Matthew Barney and the Italian conceptual artist and “prankster” Maurizio Cattelan—are showing new work right next door from one another. Head to West 21st Street, and you’ll be able to see Barney’s new video and sculptures at Gladstone Gallery, and Cattelan’s new sculptural installation is at the Gagosian space just down the block. Both of these exhibitions evoked in me interesting, acerbic, dark, and even reactionary thoughts about the modern world. 

And then I was abruptly reminded: Never read the news release. It is in these documents that the gallery attempts to restrict the viewer’s imaginative and critical engagement with the work, manipulating and controlling not just the collection in which the artist’s work ends up, but how it is interpreted. The work on display is thus brought in line with acceptable ideological norms. Cattelan’s latest work, the Gagosian news release tells us blandly, “challenges the contradictions of American society and culture”—but one of the most glaring of these contradictions is the art world itself. 

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