You’re having a pleasant stroll around the old and elegant streets of Milan. Then, suddenly you see it.
“It” is a giant middle finger, carved from white travertine marble and measuring 11 meters/36 feet high. This is Maurizio Catellan’s L.O.V.E. and it has been the centerpiece of Milan’s Piazza Affari, home of the Milan Stock Exchange, since 2010.
L.O.V.E., an acronym for the Italian words libertà, odio, vendetta, eternità (freedom, hate, vengeance, eternity), is rarely called by its official name. Rather, it is known as “Il Dito” (The Finger). The hand of Il Dito is white and veiny, in the style of classical sculpture and reminiscent of the hand of Michelangelo’s David.
But it is more than just an upturned middle finger.
Look more closely at L.O.V.E. and you’ll see that the other fingers around the middle one are not folded down but are chopped off. Had all fingers been on the sculpture, it would have resembled an open-palm fascist salute. L.O.V.E. stands directly in front of Palazzo Mezzanotte, which was built during the time of Mussolini.
These details are what transform an irreverent gesture into thought-provoking commentary. Is it a middle finger towards Italy’s financial market or is the middle finger directed outwards towards the people?
When Il Dito was installed in Milan in 2010, it was only supposed to remain in the square for two weeks. But Milanesi came to appreciate the sculpture — its shock value and its underlying meaning — and wanted to keep it around. Catellan stipulated that the sculpture could stay in Milan only if it were to remain in Piazza Affari. In 2011, Milan’s Councilor of Culture Stefano Boeri arranged for Il Dito to remain permanently in the square. And there it has been ever since.
Padua-born, New York-based Maurizio Catellan, known for his sarcastic and often shocking works, is one of the most famous Italian artists working today. You may know him as the guy who duct-taped a banana tor the wall for an exhibition at Art Basel Miami Beach. Or perhaps you have read about his 18-karat gold toilet sculpture titled “America.”
A quotation attributed to Mexican poet Cesar Cruz says, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” As of this writing, L.O.V.E. has been a Milan landmark for nearly 10 years, a beloved and provocative symbol of Italy’s most modern city. I hope it sticks around as a permanent reminder of where we have been and where we could end up if we stop paying attention.