Arts Curriculum

Political Dimensions

The true history of the work is the history of a difficulty repeating itself. I’ve also started to think about the difficulty of being Italian, having a heritage, relationships with other artists, being a member of a community with a history.


Political Dimensions

Cesena 47 – A.C. Forniture Sud 12, 1991. Black-and-white photograph, 120 x 190 cm. Edition of 2

Cattelan claims that his art merely holds up a mirror to society without commentary or judgment. Though it often touches cultural, political, and social nerves with unflinching honesty, the work offers no opinion or call to action. It simply reflects, he asserts, what he witnesses around him. “I actually think that reality is far more provocative than my art. . . . I just take it; I’m always borrowing pieces—crumbs really—of everyday reality. If you think my work is very provocative, it means that reality is extremely provocative, and we just don’t react to it. Maybe we no longer pay attention to the way we live in the world. . . . We are anesthetized.” Despite these claims to indifference, and his work’s comedic air, Cattelan’s art often offers strong critiques of political events or developments on the world stage. Much of his early work revolved around his Italian identity and the country’s evershifting political landscape, changing populace, and stagnant national economy. Cattelan’s awareness of Italy’s tarnished past, with its fascist leanings and xenophobic tendencies, has been the focus of a number of works that harshly lampoon contemporary manifestations of these trends. Whereas at the beginning of the 20th century, Italians had been among the largest groups to migrate to other countries, as the century came to a close, large numbers of immigrants from North Africa and Eastern Europe were arriving in Italy as refugees, and racism, not previously evident in Italy, became a severe problem (Francesco Bonami, “Static on the Line: The Impossible Work of Maurizio Cattelan,” in Bonami, Spector, Vanderlinden, and Gioni, Maurizio Cattelan, p. 54).

In the early 1990s, Cattelan founded a soccer team made up of North African immigrants. In artworks and performances with the team, Cattelan alluded to contemporary racial tensions and xenophobia toward immigrants while exploiting the institution of the European soccer team as both a capitalist money generator and vehicle for national aspirations. A.C. Forniture Sud FC (Southern Suppliers FC [Football Club]) was sponsored by a fictional transport company called RAUSS (derived from a Nazi slogan that means “get out”).

In 1991, Cattelan produced Stadium, a foosball table that accommodates 11 players on each side, and orchestrated a live foosball match pitting his team against an all-white group of northern Italians. Athletic, uniformed players hunched over the long, narrow tabletop provided a comical sight, but the makeup of the teams and the manipulation of the wooden figures suggested serious world politics. Now shown as a stand-alone sculpture with several balls on the table at once, the viewer is invited to interact with Stadium, retaining the original project’s spirit of communal play.

Maurizio Cattelan

Cesena 47 – A.C. Forniture Sud 12, 1991. Black-and-white photograph, 120 x 190 cm. Edition of 2

Maurizio Cattelan

Stadium, 1991. Wood, acrylic, steel, paper, and plastic, 100.3 x 651 x 120 cm. Photo: Fausto Fabbri

  • Ask the class to look carefully at this work. In what ways is it familiar? How has the artist altered the way this object is usually constructed?
  • If your students have ever played foosball, they should describe the experience. How did they feel about their opponent?

    Show: Cesena 47 – A.C. Forniture Sud 12, 1991

  • Although this work is three-dimensional, it is not exactly a sculpture for it is intended to be used. How does seeing the photograph inform your students’ understanding of this work?
  • Cattelan uses this foosball competition as a metaphor for groups that band together against each other. Does your class agree or disagree that sports teams can be compared to other social affiliations? In what ways do sports competitions mirror political, class, or social associations within society?
Cesena 47 – A.C. Forniture Sud 12, 1991. Black-and-white photograph, 120 x 190 cm. Edition of 2
Stadium, 1991. Wood, acrylic, steel, paper, and plastic, 100.3 x 651 x 120 cm. Photo: Fausto Fabbri


  • Games are a great way to understand different cultures. They often show a society’s aims or moral values. One infamous game that showed its culture’s values is Juden Raus! (Jews out!), which advanced the Nazi policy of racial hatred. This board game, designed for families to play together, was introduced in 1936 in Dresden, and the object was to deport as many Jews as possible to Palestine.

    Decades later, Cattelan outfitted his soccer team with uniforms bearing the word Rauss, which not so subtly recalled the Naziinspired phrase Juden raus. Xenophobia rose in Europe in the 1990s because of shaky economies and increasing immigration, inaugurating ultra right-wing political parties and skinhead movements in Austria, France, Germany, and Italy. Students can research this time in European history and the circumstances that gave rise to this political climate and discuss the historical parallels that Cattelan alluded to by using this reference. Then design a game that teaches a positive, rather than divisive message.

  • In the United States, passions about immigration also run high, largely connected to undocumented Latino immigrants. The PBS documentary series, The New Americans, explores the immigrant experience through their personal stories as well as common misperceptions that often result in suspicion and discrimination. Test one’s immigration IQ at pbs.org/independentlens/ newamericans/quiz.html.
    Social Studies

  • In 1945 George Orwell published an essay, “The Sporting Spirit,” in which he examined the effect nationalism plays on sport. Orwell argued that the competition of sporting events triggers violence between groups rather than good will and sportsmanship. He stated, “Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting” (George Orwell, “The Sporting Spirit,” London Tribune, December 1945. Also available at http://www.http://orwell.ru/library/articles/spirit/english/e_spirit). Have your class read Orwell’s essay and discuss it. Do your students agree or disagree with Orwell’s point of view? How does Cattelan’s work relate to Orwell’s essay?
    Social Studies