Massimo Giorgetti and Maurizio Cattelan look back at who they once were

The Milanese designer behind MSGM sits down with his close friend, the provocateur behind 'Toilet Paper,' to recall the origin of their long-running collaboration, as well as the mental benefits of good sex for Document No. 10.

Compared to its sister cities, there is rarely room for new members in Milan’s fashion clique. An intimidating landscape of serious powerhouses and name brand favorites, guarantees glamour without fuss or funny business—a heritage that makes emergence from new faces quite difficult. Perhaps the most successful Milanese designer of our time to supersede this convention, Massimo Giorgetti worked many jobs before starting his own line, MSGM, in 2009. From fit model, to department store shop-boy, he’s seen all sides of the purchase. It was while working as a D.J.—an appropriate aperitif to the future music-inspired label—that the eponymous entity began to gain steam. Soon, Giorgetti‘s pieces—bold technicolor prints accented by even brighter neons and the occasional witty text—would become a uniform of sorts for the youthful fashion crowds that once came to see him perform, his one-man label would become a $45 million dollar business, and the designer would take on even more: adding creative director of Emilio Pucci to his C.V. in January 2015.

Nothing is off limits to Maurizio Cattelan. Hailed equally as a provocateur as he is a prankster, the artist speaks in hyperbolic question marks. His work, touches on the sacred, a 1999 sculpture entitled “La Nona Ora” sees Pope John Paul II pinned to the ground by a meteorite, just as much as the surreal: he dangled five taxidermied horses by heads for his 2013 show “Kaputt.” In 2011—at the peak of his career—Cattelan announced his abrupt retirement from the art world following a massive retrospection at New York’s Guggenheim to focus on his avant-garde publication “Toilet Paper.” Years later, he’s come back to the surface, returning to his practice and to Giorgetti whom he first became aware of Plastic—the infamous Milanese dance club—and then later collaborated with so many years ago.

Joshua Glass—Do you remember when you first actually met in person?

Maurizio Cattelan—Living in a big city such as New York is like being on the top of a volcano: You can feel its tremendous energy under your feet, but sometimes it can turn into a destructive power. In Milan, it’s very different. Everything is at your fingertips and every face looks familiar…you’ll never feel overwhelmed there, and I love this “village effect.” It was in 2012 when we met, I was visiting your studio, Massimo. I was oddly struck by your aspect: even though you designed your own collection, you were dressed head to toe in Versace and had just dyed your hair ‘til it was white blonde. That’s probably why we thought it would be great idea to design something even more outrageous for you to wear—our “Toilet Paper” sweatshirts!

Massimo Giorgetti—[Laughing.] Of course I was not in Versace, I was not blonde. I think this a trasposizione, a transposition or art vision! I remember very well the first time we met, Maurizio. Some friends of mine told me that we would get along, because you had seen some of my T-shirts being worn at the club. I was so excited the night before we met that I didn’t sleep. It was such an honor, I had just moved to my new studio, and we spoke so much! We didn’t sit down for two hours because we were trying clothes. I was not in Versace!  It was like meeting a kid, un bambino. It was the end of November, with you, a kid with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm.

Maurizio—Speaking seriously, I believe the right people who belong in your life will come to you, and stay. That’s what happened to us.

Joshua—Maurizio, might we consider today a comeback from your self-professed retirement? What led you to deciding to leave then, and what brings you back now?

Maurizio—Urgency in my life is always the answer. First, I had the urgency to question myself, which let my editorial project become my main view. When you conceive two works per year, you have to be focused. Your work must be flawless, a synthesis that speaks at first glance. “Toilet Paper” allows me to be more experimental: every issue is a wordless discourse that has to make sense overall…In this plurality, making mistakes is more acceptable. Today, the urgency that moves me has changed its nature: I would like to find less to say but have it all be relevant.

Joshua—Your recent Guggenheim gold toilet served as a precursor to the compelling “Not Afraid of Love” show at the Monnaie de Paris last fall, of which you’ve described as a  “post-requiem.” Perhaps “afterlife” is a more accurate idea than “re-arrival”?

Maurizio—“Not Afraid of Love” is something unrepeatable, it could only happen in that place at that time. “America,” on the other hand, [at the Guggenheim] is a work that could take on a new level of interpretation: we have entered a Trump-ist phase of the work, I guess. I look forward to see what’s next. If we cannot believe in life after death at least we should never lose hope in an afterlife during our lifetime!

“I can sort out my fears and all those things with my work. That’s the privilege of all artists, to be able to sort out their neuroses in order to create something.” —Maurizio Cattelan 

Joshua—Are either of you spiritual?

Massimo—Yes, I am. I’m Catholic, but I am not Catholic. I can say that because I believe, but I don’t know in what.

Maurizio—I would say that sometimes a deep question is better than a straight answer, and this issue is one of those.

Massimo—I pray because I think a lot. What is there after life? After death? I believe in the soul…maybe more so than God. There is a beautiful scene in “The Tree of Life” by Terrence Malik when all the family get reincarnated after death into a beautiful mountain by the sea. Ultimately, I think it’s really about soul and energy, not a real after-aldilà (“afterlife”). I do believe that before we were ourselves  we were something different, and, maybe in the future, we will be something different again. It’s a passaggio, a step.

Joshua—Both of your styles are characterized by lightness—bold hues and bright graphics color Massimo’s youthful attire, and there is no humor lost on Maurizio’s subversive and playful body of work. Where do your senses of whimsy come from and how important are they to your points of view?

Maurizio—I feel like we share parallel ways: we started from the very essential and constructed our paths brick by brick. Fortunately, it’s not always true that you have to attend the most expensive schools or get into the most restricted lobbies to reach innovation and satisfaction in your work. On the contrary: Being yourself gets you to that freedom of thought that allows you to be meaningful and whimsy at the same time.

Massimo—MSGM was a bit different when we first met. It’s an evolution, and before it was really about crazy prints, crazy colors, and neons. At that time I had started to use words on outerwear, and we really found that our visions were similar. I remember you were interested in the meaning of the sweatshirt: “What makes a sweatshirt not a T-shirt?” you asked. A sweatshirt, una felpa. You were obsessed! We decided to put some images from “Toilet Paper” images on them, and I have to say, we were the first to do this. We printed using a technique that was like a photocopy, and it was not very easy. There were only three companies in Italy that could print in a way that it looked organic. We decided the colors together: light blue and pink. The horse sweatshirt had to be white because it came from the image created for Jovanotti Lorenzo Cherubini’s “Backup.” We talked a lot about the meaning of the sweatshirt. That was 2012, and now it’s 2017. All over the world, fashion is selling sweatshirts. From H&M to Dior, Balenciaga, and MSGM, all the fashion brands love them. So I think that you, Maurizio, were very clever to understand this power behind it.

Maurizio Cattelan and Massimo Giorgetti photographed in Milan. Production Proservice SA. Special thanks Francesca Cefis.

Joshua—Humor, whether in satire or in explicit form, is something that is very subjective. How important are others’ perceptions or reactions to you?

Maurizio—A reaction is certainly needed, indifference is the worst thing you can get from making art. But it’s impossible to predict what kind of reaction it will be. It happens with books too, each [reaction] is different in the mind of each reader. When it works well, art is something that places the audience outside of their own comfort zone: to achieve this mission, every weapon is legit, and humor is one of the most effective that gets you quickly to provocation and dialogue. The more I see, the less I know for sure, and this is valid for every hour of the day. This uncertainty is probably the best inspiration I can ask for: I can sort out my fears and all those things with my work. That’s the privilege of all artists, to be able to sort out their neuroses in order to create something.

Massimo—For me, it is completely the contrary. The more I see, the more I can do, and the more I am. I really feel like a sponge, always dry. [Laughing.] I immediately want something. This is not always good, it’s one of my negative aspects, in fact, but I know it well. When I am working or when I am dining with friends, I am always trying to change the subject! Right now, I am making 10-12 collections [a year], but I would like to do more. It’s crazy! I just did a new capsule, and I have to say that I rediscovered the fun and the excitement that I had lost. Boredom is death.

Joshua—The art world, like fashion, can be very insularly focused. Through MSGM, Massimo, you’ve tried to give a platform to smaller, emerging voices. In a landscape so dynamic, but also established, how do you think a young artist can be discovered?

Maurizio—At the beginning of the millennium, we moved from secrecy to maximum visibility, without any filter. This overcrowding, which from one side it’s very attractive, makes difficult to tell what is good and what is not on the long run: not everything that emerges is necessarily interesting from the history of art point of view. The overproduction mechanism requires everyone to be very selective. So I rather say that the problem is to choose, not to find out. Massimo, do you ever miss where you were at the start of your career compared to where you are now?

Massimo—I have to say that it’s a question I arrive at a lot. Of course I miss the beginning. I was fresher, younger. I was without pollution. So, yes, I miss that Massimo. But at the same time, I remember the first year when I started MSGM. It was very, very hard. Some mornings I would wake up crying. Four, five years ago my financial future was not sure. So I do miss this kind of me, but I don’t want to look back at it. You should know, the invitation for the first MSGM collection was a big poster that said, “Never look back; it’s all ahead.” It had four stripes and was in acid colors.

Maurizio—In spite of this, if there was one thing you could bring back from those days, what would it be?

Massimo—I can’t have a crazy night anymore. For example, right now I’m in New York and I would like to go out, maybe this evening, but it’s different. I would like a kind of mental freedom. Now there is a lot of responsibility. I don’t do drugs, I don’t smoke, but I love good cocktails and good music! It’s not the same scene for me, it’s cocktails, fun, friends, music, and sex. [Laughing.] We are human! Last year I went to an Ayurvedic clinic in India, and I stayed one week with all-day meditation and all-day yoga to clean the body of toxins. It was amazing, and sex was like God to them. They did a detox of the body to reinvigorate sexual desire. For our health—physical, mental—it is very important. You realize when you have good sex that it is very important for the brain. To have just for one day this mental freedom, maybe.