The Lives of Artists – Maurizio Cattelan

The New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins describes an encounter in Paris with the Italian satirical contemporary artist
Maurizio Cattelan - photo courtesy WikiCommons
Maurizio Cattelan - photo courtesy WikiCommons

If you want to know what it’s like to be in the presence of important and groundbreaking artists, you should really ask Calvin Tomkins. Over the past 59 years, Tomkins has profiled almost every culturally significant figure in the contemporary art world for The New Yorker magazine.

Our new six-volume anthology of his work, The Lives of Artists, brings these profiles together. There are many delightful long reads in there, but there are also moments when, in just a few finely chiselled sentences, Tomkins describes the range of impressions and emotions one might experience, meeting an artist for the first time, face-to-face.  

Consider this description of an encounter with the bad boy of contemporary art, Maurizio Cattelan.


Calvin Tomkins photo by Sara Barrett
Calvin Tomkins photo by Sara Barrett

“Ten o’clock on a May morning in Paris, by the École des Beaux-Arts. Maurizio Cattelan, the world’s only punctual artist, is slightly late, but the sun is warm, the breeze is cool, and vividly dressed art students crowd through a narrow gate in the tall iron grille that separates the École’s courtyard from the Rue Bonaparte.

“My wife’s mobile phone rings. It is Cattelan, calling from his bicycle to say that he’s three minutes away. Three minutes later, he glides to a soundless stop beside us. Cattelan is Italian. Tall and lean in his jeans and black T-shirt, he has close-cropped dark hair and a long, quizzical face anchored by an auspicious Roman nose. He wheels his bike into the courtyard, chains it to a stand, and looks around at the architecture. ‘Not bad,’ he says, whistling softly.” 


The Lives of Artists by Calvin Tomkins
The Lives of Artists by Calvin Tomkins

Just over 100 words and you feel like you’ve known Cattelan for years. For more encounters like this order a copy of The Lives of Artists here. This six-volume set includes 82 of Tomkins's most significant profiles dating from 1962 to 2019. Part art history, part human interest, Tomkins offers insights and observations about the artists, their work, and the ever-changing art world they inhabit. Buy The Lives of Artists here.

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