Italy’s Top Conceptual Artist Flips Off High Finance

A giant marble middle finger by Italian art star Maurizio Cattelan is finding a home right in front of the Milan Stock Exchange. But some power brokers are not amused.

Alessandro Barbera

MILAN - Giuseppe Vegas, the president of Italy's securities market regulator Consob, just can't bear the 11-meter Carrara marble sculpture that points towards the temple of Italian Finance, the Milan Stock Exchange. But art is regulated by very different forces.

The "digitus impudicus' ("indecent finger") has a long history. It had a role in The Clouds by the Greek comic playwright Aristophanes; and Roman Emperor Caligula used it to humiliate his subjects. The artist of this marble middle finger, Maurizio Cattelan, called his sculpture L.O.V.E., as in Libertà (Freedom), Odio (Hate), Vendetta (Revenge), Eternità (Eternity).

On Valentine's day, a group of artists adorned the sculpture with a giant engagement ring. For Vegas, it didn't help. While known to have a sharp sense of irony, he reportedly cannot stand the idea that next May -- when he will present Consob's annual report for the first time – he will be photographed, along with Italy's financial and entrepreneurial elite, government ministers, and the President of Republic, under that huge, defiant sculpture flipping the proverbial bird.

So to try to avoid being seen in front of a giant "F-you," Vegas has taken action: he has threatened to relocate his annual report presentation if the Milan city government does not remove the marble finger from Piazza Affari, site of the Stock Exchange.

Over the past 10 years, Consob's annual report has been presented in front of the building. But if the sculpture remains, Vegas has been considering a less embarrassing, and more evocative place: Palazzo delle Stelline (Palace of the Little Stars). It would be the perfect alternative for a man who so values sobriety and respect in public life. Indeed, at the beginning of the 17th century, Palazzo delle Stelline housed the Society of Obedience for nobles and cardinals, as well as rooms for "little stars' -- orphan girls -- that were called so after the former monastery of the Benedictine nuns of Santa Maria della Stella (St. Mary of the Star).

It seems the right place to gather bankers, and to speak about rules, ethics, duty, and responsibility. But it is hard to predict if Vegas's determination will actually convince Milan's mayor, Letizia Moratti, to take down the finger sculpture. Up until now, every criticism on the matter has been ignored. This past January 4, a poll conducted by the financial newspaper Milano Finanza revealed that many bankers oppose the presence of the sculpture. But on the same day, Milan's town hall granted a third extension for the finger to stay in the square, making it all the more permanent.

The sculpture, valued at two million euros, was installed on September 24, 2010. It was only supposed to stay in Piazza Affari for a couple of weeks. Now, it is unlikely that the sculpture will be removed before the end of September. "It is not a finger anymore. It is an open hand to contemporary arts," argues Massimiliano Finazzer Flory, Milan's Councilor for Culture. He added, "The extension of the finger's stay will strengthen the program of summer events."

The management of the Milan Stock Exchange has not officially spoken about the big marble finger that looms outside their windows. Residents of Milan, not surprisingly, are split. The mayor finds herself in the middle, and may be resisting calls to dismantle the sculpture because of a public pledge from Cattelan, one of the world's top-paid and most celebrated conceptual artists. After its stay at the Stock Market was initially extended, he had said, "I will give my sculpture as a gift to the city only if it will be respected. It should stay in Piazza Affari at least 20 years."

Cattelan thinks that the Finger is where it should be, pointing at the right target, flipping off the headquarters of the stock exchange, Italy's singular symbol of globalized finance. If the artist could decide, the sculpture would become the permanent, ironic icon of Piazza Affari, like the Bull on Wall Street. But he may first need the Ok from Vegas, Italy's top financial market regulator. That too is a concept rich with irony.

Read the original article in Italian

photo - (Viola Scintilla)

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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