Debating the Meaning of the the Middle Finger

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, whose work was recently on display at the Menil, is the subject of some controversy in Milan, Italy, where his sculpture L.O.V.E. is being called "an insult" and "disgusting." The 30-foot-high marble middle finger installed in front of the Milan Stock Exchange appears to be sending an anti-capitalist message, some say.

Cattelan rarely explains his work, preferring to simply present an image, step back and let the fur fly, like La Nona Ora, his effigy of Pope John Paul II stricken by a meteorite, which caused an uproar among Poles and Catholics.

(Incidentally, Cattelan's recent Menil exhibition contained a bird-flipping hand hanging from the ceiling.)

Regardless of the detractors, Milan's culture-committee chairman, Massimiliano Finazzer Flory, wants to keep L.O.V.E. in Milan. (It will remain in its current spot until October 24.)

We think Bob Duggan at bigthink.com has the right take on Cattelan's "big bird":

"This sculpture is clearly saying something, but to whom? For Americans still struggling with a floundering economy, memories of the massive financial bailout that promised salvation but seemed only to save the financial institutions themselves still rankle. We would all like to give Goldman Sachs and friends 'the bird' in the worst way. When the American disaster rippled across the oceans and soured world markets, that sentiment repeated in the minds of Europeans, Asians, and beyond.

But look closely at L.O.V.E. again. It's pointing away from the stock exchange, not towards it. Cattelan aims the gesture not at the financial world, as he says, but at us--those affected by that world, but hopelessly outside of it. Perhaps Cattelan speaks the truth when he says he's not speaking to the financial world. Perhaps what he's really doing is speaking for them--putting in a single image everything they've said to the world for the last few years of bailouts and failures. 'We're too big to fail,' the three-story-high hand says. Instead of David challenging the giant, it's the giant goading us to take our best shot, however futile. 'Nobody loves Goliath,' as Wilt Chamberlain once said. This sculpture adds, 'And Goliath couldn't care less.'"

Art Attack thinks L.O.V.E. is the most glorious publically displayed work we've seen in some time. It's rare that such things are allowed to survive.

Nothing like L.O.V.E. could ever be successfully installed in a public space on U.S. soil. No, here useless and boring crap like this keeps cropping up. Unless Banksy flies across the pond for a bombing, we wait for our local street talent to attack.

We did find a couple more actually-provocative public artworks. One's in Canada; one's in Berlin.

Device to Root Out Evil, by Dennis Oppenheim, Vancouver

Peace Be With You, by Peter Lenk, Berlin

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