Do the Bird: Maurizio Cattelan’s Protest Sculpture

When Maurizio Cattelan unveiled his 30-foot-high sculpture titled L.O.V.E. in front of the Milan Stock Exchange recently, many people were wondering exactly where the love was. The massive hand with middle finger upraised resembles in style and marble structure Michelangelo’s David, if the young hero flipped off the Philistine Goliath just before firing the fatal stone. Cattelan specializes in confrontational art, but he claims that his prodigious rude gesture is “mainly about imagination” and love, actually, rather than a social comment on the international financial world. I don’t buy it, and neither should you, regardless of what Cattelan says, or even believes.

Cattelan has taken on giants before. La Nona Ora (“The Ninth Hour” in English) depicts Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite. Perhaps Cattelan fantasized God smiting the pontiff for continuing some of the intolerant policies of the Catholic church. Equally memorable was Cattelan’s decision to sculpt Adolf Hitler praying. By flipping the world upside down—mass murderers as devout, religious figures smote for their sins—Cattelan asks us to refocus our attention and see thing afresh. L.O.V.E. borrows from the Renaissance tradition of Italy to ask us to look at the modern world with new eyes. Cattelan's works “call our times into question, offering themselves as a mirror, however cracked, of our present," Milan's commissioner for culture, Massimiliano Finazzer Flory, remarked in an official statement.

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.”

As a New York Times piece today remarked, the calls for austerity in America and Europe are always “for thee, and not for me”—aimed at the poorest and not at the richest, who always command the discussion of finances, usually at the expense of the voiceless. Rather than decry Cattelan’s sculpture as a childish rude gesture, we should think more about the greater obscenity of how the economy punishes the innocent and rewards the criminal actions of the lords of finance. Rather than condemn Cattelan, we should join him in “doing the bird,” because the bird’s been done to us for much too long.

[All apologies to Morris Day and The Time for co-opting their song for my title.]

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

People who engage in fat-shaming tend to score high in this personality trait

A new study explores how certain personality traits affect individuals' attitudes on obesity in others.

Mind & Brain
  • The study compared personality traits and obesity views among more than 3,000 mothers.
  • The results showed that the personality traits neuroticism and extraversion are linked to more negative views and behaviors related to obesity.
  • People who scored high in conscientiousness are more likely to experience "fat phobia.
Keep reading Show less

4 anti-scientific beliefs and their damaging consequences

The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.

Moon Landing Apollo
  • Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
  • Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
  • All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
Keep reading Show less

Reigning in brutality - how one man's outrage led to the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions

The history of the Geneva Conventions tells us how the international community draws the line on brutality.

Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino. Painting by Adolphe Yvon. 1861.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Henry Dunant's work led to the Red Cross and conventions on treating prisoners humanely.
  • Four Geneva Conventions defined the rules for prisoners of war, torture, naval and medical personnel and more.
  • Amendments to the agreements reflect the modern world but have not been ratified by all countries.
Keep reading Show less