“I’ve always been good at faking things,” says the cunning and controversial artist at the center of Maura Axelrod’s playful, intriguing documentary “Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back.” Cattelan’s puckish admission is borne out not only by his mind-messing, satirical conceptual art but by the elusive Italian’s disquieting penchant for speaking through a doppelgänger.
Axelrod features a chatty array of art-world types — gallerists, curators, critics, collectors — who weigh in on the bad-boy artist’s curious output and methodology. Cattelan’s archivist, sister, ex-girlfriends and a onetime roommate offer slightly more personal insight.
Although many are on the Cattelan train and may consider his work, which commands enormous sums in auction, “profound, interesting and demanding,” one observer here asks, fairly, “Is he one of the greatest living artists — or one of the worst?”
Ultimately, Cattelan’s art speaks for itself — and its creator — via such notably provocative pieces as a wax sculpture of Pope John Paul II being struck by a meteorite, a schoolboy-sized Adolf Hitler kneeling in prayer, a gigantic middle-finger salute, and a dead Pinocchio face-down in a pool.
The film culminates in fascinating footage of the 2011 construction and exhibition of Cattelan’s life’s work that was arduously suspended from the ceiling of New York’s Guggenheim Museum — a fitting tribute to an artist who’s nothing short of a high-wire act.
‘Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back’
In English and Italian with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills