Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Milan's 'rudest' sculpture

Close your eyes and imagine Milan.

What do you see? Do you picture pizzas and piazzas? Do you think of the Duomo, the Castle or the Opera House? Perhaps you envisage a night necking Negroni in Navigli or a day gawping at Gucci in Brera.

Or maybe, just maybe, you think of this very large sculpture of a middle finger.

Welcome to Milan

It's officially titled "L.O.V.E." but known by everyone as "il dito" (the finger). The sculpture was designed by contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan, who donated it to the city on the condition that it be placed outside Borsa Italiana, Milan's stock exchange. In effect, it's our equivalent of the Wall Street bull.

The hand and finger are four metres high. Including its plinth, the sculpture measures 11 metres. In a wry nod to the Renaissance, it's made from Carrara marble – the same material used by Michelangelo and Bernini.

The ambiguity of L.O.V.E.

But who is the finger's target? Is it pointed at the traders of Milan's stock exchange who walk past each day? Milan's leftwing mayor, Giuliano Pisapia, thinks so. He called it "an open criticism of the international financial management that led to the great crisis of 2008."

However, although it stands in front of the stock market, it faces outward. When Milan's traders complained about the sculpture, Cattelan responded "It's actually more the stock exchange giving the middle finger to the world." He's also said "I have nothing against the stock exchange... I’m not giving the bird to anybody."

Cattelan suggests interpreting the sculpture as a maimed Nazi salute. By chopping off the hand's other fingers, he's attacking Italy's fascist past. This also tallies with the sculpture's location – Palazzo Mezzanotte, the stock exchange building, is a typical example of fascist architecture, built in 1932.

Will the finger linger?

Although there have been calls to remove the sculpture, a raised middle finger is less offensive in Italy than in many places. And several locals chuckle at the subversiveness of forcing privileged traders to look at it day after day.

For Cattelan, amusing or offending people isn't entirely the purpose. The point is to create an enduring image that could subtly shape public consciousness. "History is made of images. When we think about the Vietnam War, we think about a couple of images. An image can do a lot. I’m not saying this is going to be an image [in the way those couple of key Vietnam photos are]. But we have a chance."

Draw your own conclusions whether, despite his denials, he really does intend to flip the bird at the traders after all...

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