Piazza Affari, home to Milan’s Stock Exchange, is often a rather overlooked venue when compared to neighbouring sites such as the Duomo and the Sforza Castle. To some extent, this makes sense, given the practical function of the area, populated by banks and insurers’ offices. Yet, Piazza Affari reveals an artistic site, through the somewhat unusual contrast between the Fascist-era Palazzo Mezzanotte (b. 1927) and L.O.V.E (2010), a monumental sculptural work by the controversial Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan.
L.O.V.E. – Maurizio Cattelan – 2010
L.O.V.E. (also commonly known in Italy as Il dito, the finger), stands for “Libertà” (freedom), “Odio” (hathred), “Vendetta” (revenge), and “Eternità” (eternity). The Carrara-marble sculpture represents a hand performing an iconic rude gesture. Upon closer inspection, the viewer will notice that every finger has been cut away, with the exception of the middle one. Thus, it is possible to imagine that the complete form would have referenced a Fascist salute, which connects the work of art to Palazzo Mezzanotte, acting as a backdrop behind the piece.
Cattelan’s oeuvre is often concerned with the issues of authority and ideology, which he meets with mockery and parody. An earlier work entitled Ave Maria (“Hail Mary”) represents three arms stretching out of a wall while performing the Nazi salute. The fictional figures appear to be wearing suits, identifying them as members of the financial aristocracy, the same elite that L.O.V.E. implicitly references by facing the Stock Exchange. However, while Ave Maria takes the form of a commentary, the 4,6m-tall marble hand castrates the imposing sense of power embodied by Palazzo Mezzanotte by portraying its spiritual origins as defeated and mocked.
La Nona Ora – Maurizio Cattelan – 1999
The relation between ideology and defeat is portrayed in other works, such as La Nona Ora, a shocking and famous statue of Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite. The concept initially featured a standing sculpture in the middle of a red carpet, a Christian symbol of martyrdom. However, Cattelan eventually opted for a more dramatic representation, showing the pope as hit by a celestial sign, falling to the ground with his legs broken. The image, needless to say, was quite scandalous as John Paul II was already suffering from the Parkinson’s disease, fighting with its debilitating symptoms. Once again, the paradoxical image is supposed to re-elaborate images of power by showing authority as unstable and vulnerable.
Him – Maurizio Cattelan – 2001
L.O.V.E. is a peculiar example of how art can transform the perception of the space it inhabits. By using the Fascist-era Palazzo Mezzanotte as a backdrop, the work acquires an entirely new variety of meanings, which take into account both the building’s function as a financial institution and its stylistic origin, deeply connected to Italian history. In this regard, the choice of materials itself plays into this logic, as Carrara marble was used by artists such as Michelangelo and Canova to create some of the most iconic images in Italian art history.
Cattelan has often been considered a jester of the art world, using his creativity to criticise the monumentality fo authority by reversing its aura. Mockery, parody, and shock are some of the devices that he uses to reach this goal. To some extent, L.O.V.E. encapsulates all these elements, thus resulting in one of the most accomplished works by the artist.