Maurizio Cattelan is the contemporary art world's court jester. While his art-historical predecessor may be the Dadaist punster Marcel Duchamp, Cattelan is heir to a much broader tradition—that of the clown, a tragicomic figure with a particular resonance in the artist's native Italy, birthplace of commedia dell'arte and the films of Federico Fellini and Roberto Benigni. Playing the role of the loser with great relish, Cattelan continuously pretends to sabotage his own chances for success and recognition. Claiming to have no ideas, he once fled an exhibition venue by climbing out a window and lowering himself down a knotted sheet. In another instance, the artist sold his allotted space at the Venice Biennale to a perfume company, which placed an advertisement for its product in the gallery.
The same kind of self-effacement has also characterized much of Cattelan's sculptural work. In La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi (We are the revolution), a miniature effigy of the artist hangs from a Marcel Breuer–designed clothing rack, dressed in Joseph Beuys's canonical felt suit, which the late German artist had worn during his action Isolation Unit (1971). Here, as it was first presented at the Migros Museum, Zurich, in 2000, Cattelan's "mini-me" occupies a large, otherwise empty gallery and appears to cower sheepishly, seemingly embarrassed that he did not have more ideas for the exhibition. However playful, Cattelan's identification with Beuys underscores some of the more profound aspects of his art. Like Beuys, Cattelan uses his own image to bear meaning in his work, and his perpetual claim "I am not really an artist," is simply an inversion of Beuys's declaration that "every man is an artist." Beuys presented himself as a shaman, a figure capable of healing the ills of the world through ritual and incantation. Cattelan, on the other hand, is a trickster who stirs up trouble in an all-too-complacent world. But this dichotomy proves false. In alchemical lore, the trickster character is both a shaman and a prankster who can transform himself at will in order to work his magic.