Arts Curriculum

Spectacle Culture and the Mediated Image

I tried to overlap two opposite realities, Sicily and Hollywood: after all, images are just projections of desire, and I wanted to shade their boundaries. It might be a parody, but it’s also a tribute. . . . There is something hypnotic in Hollywood: it’s a sign that immediately speaks about obsessions, failures, and ambitions. 


Spectacle Culture and the Mediated Image

Hollywood, 2001. Scaffold, aluminum, and halogen headlights, 23.35 x 166.2 x 9 m. Installation view: Hollywood (special project for the Venice Biennale), Palermo, Sicily, June 10–November 4, 2001. Photo: Attilio Maranzano

For the 2001 Venice Biennale, Cattelan erected a replica of the iconic Hollywood sign—made of 500 tons of steel, iron, and concrete16—on top of the municipal garbage dump in Palermo, Sicily. In doing so, he displaced an image associated with dreams of the glamorous movie industry to a gritty and decidedly unglamorous locale. As he explained, “It’s like spraying stardust over the Sicilian landscape: it’s a cut and paste dream" (“Maurizio Cattelan | Hollywood Landing in Sicily,” http://www.postmedia.net/cattelan/hollywood.htm). On second glance, however, both cities share some commonalities. Palermo and Los Angeles are both major metropolises, southern in their geographic orientation and relatively parched. Both are stricken with economic problems and urban unrest, with racial tensions in Los Angeles and organized crime in Palermo being defining factors in each city’s public profile. In fact, like Hollywood, Sicily has captured the imagination of many illustrious feature-film directors.

Installed only for a brief period of time, Cattelan’s replica of the Hollywood sign was the biennale’s first contribution ever presented outside Venice. Cattelan chartered a plane to bring some collectors, critics, and curators from Venice to experience the work in person. Most viewers, however, have only seen the work in photographs.

Cattelan understands and exploits the capacity of images to seduce, provoke, and disrupt. From the beginning of his career, he has created sculptures, and produced events with their dissemination as photographic images in mind. He has a highly developed editorial eye and has assimilated the tactics of advertising and commercial photography, so prevalent in our media-saturated culture. He judges the success of a work by how well it translates into a picture and how well the picture is reproduced and transmitted by the media. His sculptures can be effectively adapted into the pictorial realm, and their impact is not diminished when they are illustrated in print. The images manage to have the same intellectual and emotional impact as the sculptures do in person. Cattelan has said, “Today we mostly see art through photos and reproductions. So in the end it almost doesn’t matter where the actual piece is. Sooner or later it’s gonna end up in your head, and that’s when things get interesting. I’m more interested in brains and memories than in sitespecific works” (Sirmans, “Maurizio Cattelan: Image Maker,” p. 23).

Maurizio Cattelan

Hollywood, 2001. Scaffold, aluminum, and halogen headlights, 23.35 x 166.2 x 9 m. Installation view: Hollywood (special project for the Venice Biennale), Palermo, Sicily, June 10–November 4, 2001. Photo: Attilio Maranzano

  • Have your students ever seen this sign before? What associations do they have with this image?

  • Although this may look like the famous Hollywood sign in California, a symbol of the movie industry, it is actually a replica that Cattelan had built over a garbage dump in Palermo. Landmarks are so interwoven with the sites they occupy that we rarely think about one without the other—the Empire State Building and New York or the Eiffel Tower and Paris—but Cattelan’s Hollywood makes us think about what happens when a landmark is relocated. Cattelan says that his intent was to “[spray] stardust over the Sicilian landscape.” Did he succeed? How does knowing that this work is a re-creation in another place change its meaning?

  • For generations people have traveled the world to visit original works of art in person, but Cattelan creates his work with the knowledge that many will only see it as a photograph in magazines and newspapers or online. He has said, “Today we mostly see art through photos and reproductions. So in the end it almost doesn’t matter where the actual piece is. Sooner or later it’s gonna end up in your head, and that’s when things get interesting. I’m more interested in brains and memories than in site-specific works.” What is the class’s response to Cattelan’s statement?
Hollywood, 2001. Scaffold, aluminum, and halogen headlights, 23.35 x 166.2 x 9 m. Installation view: Hollywood (special project for the Venice Biennale), Palermo, Sicily, June 10–November 4, 2001. Photo: Attilio Maranzano



  • As a class, brainstorm a list of all the landmarks you can think of. Once the list is created, analyze what characteristics and attributes need to be present to deem something a landmark.
    Social Studies

  • Landmarks can be manmade, like buildings and bridges, or natural sites, like a tree or mountain peak, and have special significance because of their history, construction, or long association with a location. Landmarks help identify a place and give it a unique identity.

    What landmarks are associated with your city or neighborhood? What qualities make them landmarks? What associations do they hold? Have students draw or photograph a neighborhood landmark and then create a picture postcard. On the back, they can tell the story of the landmark selected and its importance to your community.
    Visual Arts, Social Studies
    Drawing, Photography

  • Cattlelan’s work is created with the knowledge that most people will see it reproduced in print and/or on the Web. Students should select something that is important to them, perhaps an item they made or own. They should photograph it so that the image conveys their relationship to the object and then compare the photo to the original object. What qualities do they think were captured? What was lost in the reproduction?
    Visual Arts
    Photography

  • The Hollywood sign in California has undergone its own set of transformations. Now a famous landmark, it was erected in 1923 as an advertisement for a real-estate development and originally read “Hollywoodland.” It was not intended to be permanent, but with the rise of the American cinema in Los Angeles, it became an internationally recognized symbol of the movie industry. The website, hollywoodsign.com, features a 24-7 webcam, illustrated history, and suggestions for how to get the best photos.
    Social Studies