“How lucky Maurizio is that he met Massimiliano,” says curator Ali Subotnick, who for a while was the third member of their New York art family. “They complement each other. They could finish each other’s sentences.”
“Maurizio was the person in the late nineties who’d seen every single show. He’d go around on his bicycle,” says Tom Eccles, who runs the curatorial school at Bard College but was then in charge of the Public Art Fund in the city. “He was an information addict. It’s easy to forget, now that he’s entered a certain place—as a kind of international art star—that he’s always been trying to find avenues to bring in others, to give them opportunities. He’s never been a Damien Hirst, who is about Damien Hirst.”
Gioni, Cattelan, and Subotnick joked about starting a magazine and then launched Charley, which began as a compilation of 400 artists they and their friends found interesting. They talked about how much fun it would be to have their own gallery, and Cattelan found a forlorn doorway in Chelsea and persuaded the owner of the building to let them use it. They called it, sportively, the Wrong Gallery: It had one and a half square feet of exhibition space. “And then artists started coming to us,” says Subotnick, on Bluetooth as she drives through Los Angeles to her job at the Hammer Museum (her career took off thanks to the collaboration, too). “They appreciated the playfulness and working with limitations.” Major names like Martin Creed, Paul McCarthy, Lawrence Weiner, and many others exhibited there; once they just posted a sign that read FUCK OFF, WE’RE CLOSED (it was an artwork by Adam McEwen). After the building was sold, the Wrong Gallery moved to the Tate Modern in London, where Gioni and Cattelan would sometimes stash a piece from that museum’s permanent collection behind the door, and sometimes curate something original. “It was a space where there was no space,” says Gioni, curating the concept for me. “It’s just a door.”
The Wrong Gallery got Gioni (who’d already overseen a small pavilion at Venice) the job heading the public-art Trussardi Foundation in Milan (where he exhibited a notorious Cattelan piece consisting of three mannequins of boys strung up by their necks from a tree). It also got him nominated to run the Berlin Biennale in 2006. When he brought along Cattelan and Subotnick, the three of them got the gig. One of their Biennale’s most memorable features was a space they named, as a send-up, the Gagosian Gallery Berlin. After Berlin, Gioni was too well known to continue going around pretending to be Cattelan (plus they nearly got a TV reporter from Sweden fired for pulling that stunt). Their careers separated. Subotnick moved to L.A.
But there is supposed to be a point to all of this, they tell me. “Nobody is just himself or herself,” says Gioni, speaking in his elliptical way about the nature of collaboration. “Everybody comes with luggage and connections. You don’t know where you end and somebody else starts.
“And this is, in a way, what the space is about: hospitality or parasitic relationships. And families are parasites, for better or worse, you know?” He pauses over his lamb. “Or symbiotic maybe better than parasitic, you know?”
Family Business came about so quickly that Gioni calls it “an open-air pregnancy. It’s not born yet, and yet you can still see it.” Cattelan was looking to see what was next for him if he wasn’t making art any longer. (“I have no more jokes,” he told Eccles.) The photographer Marilyn Minter, at a dinner, suggested he teach; she’s taught for years, at Yale and SVA, and enjoys it. At the same time, a gallerist he knows, Anna Kustera, had offered him use of the front of her space on the ground floor of a West 21st Street building. “I would always say, ‘Why don’t you use this window? This is the best asset of the gallery,’ ” Cattelan says. “And she said, ‘Why don’t you do something?’ ”
After Cattelan persuaded Gioni to join the project over lunch in December, they recruited Eccles, who arranged for Bard to provide the nonprofit infrastructure and sign the three-year lease. (He’d previously done the same thing for the Wrong Gallery when he ran the Public Art Fund.) Cattelan paid for the drywall to subdivide the space. Minter, a sprightly 63, agreed to curate the first month—her overarching theme was “Virgins,” or artists who hadn’t shown before; the band the Virgins played the first night’s after-party. They hired a 25-year-old Russian SVA student, Daria Irincheeva, to be their director; her first show, “Toasting to the Revolution,” is of six friends from back home, commenting on life under Putin.