‘The Beauty Is in the Pieces’: This Artist Didn’t Understand Mickey Mouse, So He Broke the Character Down Into Parts

Cosimo Cavallaro’s new exhibition “In Pieces,” on view now in LA, features massive fiberglass sculptures of Mickey Mouse’s body parts.

Installation view of “Cosimo Cavallaro: In Pieces,” Jason Voss Gallery, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

When Cosimo Cavallaro was a child, he asked his mother for a toy that belonged to another child. He couldn’t have it, so his mother told him to draw the toy until it became real.

The lesson stuck with Cavallaro. Now, a similar exercise is playing out at Jason Vass Gallery in Los Angeles. There, in the artist’s new exhibition “In Pieces,” massive fiberglass sculptures depicting various parts of Mickey Mouse—a white-gloved hand, a yellow shoe, two halves of his head—lay scattered on the floor. Cavallero dissected the cartoon character in an effort to understand it.

Born in Montreal and raised between the Canadian city and Italy, Cavallaro didn’t grow up with Mickey Mouse or other cartoons. But that’s not necessarily the reason he has an uneasy relationship to the seminal character.

“The cartoon is animated to a human life. I just don’t understand that,” he tells artnet News. “It’s a line. Why should a line imitate a human being? A line is beautiful as it is.”

Installation view of “Cosimo Cavallaro: In Pieces,” Jason Vass Gallery, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

For Cavallero, it’s a metaphysical issue. Mickey Mouse, he says, is like the titular figure in the Wizard of Oz—embodying an image that’s not really there. “By cutting it up, I’m basically removing the curtain. I can now see the purity of the shape rather than the projection of it.”

“In Pieces,” has been in the works for four years now. Two years prior to that, Cavallaro relocated from New York to LA. Nearly every day since then, on the drive to and from his workshop, he passed Disneyland.

“Being in California, I was always surrounded by this image of Mickey Mouse,” he says. “No matter where I was going, I was always encountering this character.”

Cosimo Cavallaro, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

The work is the latest a line of shiny, large-scale sculptures the artist has made of fiberglass, a direction he began pursuing in 2013 when he exhibited a series of gigantic jelly beans. Prior to that, Cavallaro worked largely in conceptually minded, ephemeral sculpture, including a number of news-making, food-focused works. He covered a Wyoming house in Cheese, painted a Quebec apartment with ketchup, and cast Jesus Christ in chocolate.

Now, having broken down Mickey to its constituent parts, Cavallaro isn’t any closer to understanding it, culturally or ontologically. Though he’s come to appreciate the iconic character for other reasons.

“The beauty is in the pieces,” Cavallaro. “The figure loses its iconic value and gains sculptural value. I didn’t expect to find something beautiful; I was just expecting to get rid of this anger that I had that I couldn’t associate with that icon. In cutting it up, I saw the association that I had with it, and I found the actual beauty. Destruction and construction are both present at the same time.”

Installation view of “Cosimo Cavallaro: In Pieces,” Jason Vass Gallery, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Cavallaro’s new relationship to the figure brings up another childhood story of his about a toy. He recalls a time as a kid, sitting in a car and noticing a small plastic figurine on the street outside—a little cowboy on a horse.

“I was so excited that I could have that,” he recalls. “It didn’t belong to anyone else; it was mine.” He opened the car door and reached for it, but found that it wasn’t a toy after all.

“When I touched it, it was soft and mushy. It was dog shit.”

Cosimo Cavallaro: In Pieces” is on view through October 30 at Jason Vass Gallery.

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