February 19, 2011

Public Art and public Morals

L.O.V.E by Maurizio Cattellan

Artworks have always been the cause of much fraught public debates on issue of morality and the Italian artist Maurizio Cattellan is not new to controversy.

Last September Palazzo Reale in Milan hosted an exhibition of 3 of Cattellan's works plus a third sculpture to be displayed in Piazza Affari, right in front of the Italian Stock Exchange building. Carved in white Carrara marble, it represents a hand with all the fingers cut off, except for the middle on. To put it simply, it's a hand giving the one-finger salute. The original title was the Latin expression 'omnia munda mundis' - literally meaning
'to the pure [men], all things [are] pure'. It was later dropped in favour of L.O.V.E. an acronym for Libertà (Liberty), Odio (Hate), Vendetta (Revenge) and Eternità (Eternity).

It's clearly meant to be a mockery of the financial sector: a visual expression of how ordinary people may feel towards the banks and stock exchange  market, reminding them of their responsibility of the current economic crisis.

Such a hoax was meant to last just 10 days before the artwork being moved to another location. Five months later and the hand still salutes proudly those working at the Stock Exchange. On Valentine’s day, a group of artists even adorned it with a giant engagement ring. 

However, Giuseppe Vegas, the president of Italy's securities market regulator Consob, has asked for it to be removed. In May he's due to present Consob’s annual report and he simply doesn't want the finger as the background for official photographs along with the Italy’s financial and entrepreneurial elite, government ministers, and the President of the Republic.

This is a difficult case to settle. I think the public can accept such artworks in the short-term, even appreciate the thought -provoking value of art. However, in the long term citizens want beautiful art to decorate their city, something to be proud of. As a general rule I'm in favour of this kind of art to be displayed in public places but for a short while before being moved for example to a museum.

On the other hand, for this specific case, since we're talking about financial brokers, maybe they need a permanent reminder of their responsibility towards the rest of society. A bit like those 'Last judgement' paintings, above the exit of churches, placed there to be the last thing believers could see before leaving the church and entering again the world, a final warning about the necessity to live morally.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Sally Ballard

    What a great piece…and a really thought-provoking article, Giulia. It’s a great idea to base your article on the one statue and make your points around that particular piece of ‘art’.

    I really enjoyed reading this article of your. I liked, not only the information about this particular one-fingered statue, the debate it has caused so far, and also the likely debates it could generate if it’s still there in May, but also your very succinct thoughts about artworks generally. This is a neatly written piece. No unnecessary words. No unnecessary thoughts. Good clear writing.

    I like your comment about the statue being a gentle reminder towards financial brokers. I like too the way you round off your article about artworks and their place in churches as ‘final warnings’.

    A really good read.

    22 Feb 2011, 19:11

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