MILAN (REUTERS).- A marble sculpture of a cut-off hand with the middle finger stuck up has gone on display in front of the Milan Stock Exchange, provoking a lively debate in Italy's financial capital.
The 11-meter high installation, called "L.O.V.E." and unveiled for the first time in Milan, is part of a retrospective dedicated to the Italian contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan, whose provocative works include a sculpture of Pope John Paul being hit by a meteorite.
"(Cattelan's works) call our times into question, offering themselves as a mirror, however cracked, of our present," said Massimiliano Finazzer Flory, Milan's commissioner for culture, in a statement.
Cattelan drew protests in Milan in 2004 with his installation of three baby puppets hung on the branch of an old tree. A protester sawed off the branch and the work was eventually removed.
The finger sculpture, which mocks a Nazi gesture, is part of a retrospective of Cattelan's works entitled "Against Ideologies" promoted by the city of Milan, which says it is the third-largest market for contemporary art after New York and London.
The installation has fueled criticism among local politicians and intellectuals over the rights and wrongs of showing a provocative work in a public space, like the Bourse square.
Asked about the meaning of the work, Cattelan said his work was more an act of love than a comment on the financial world.
"It is mainly about imagination," he told reporters last week.
The sculpture will remain on display until October 3, while three other works by the same artist will be on view at Milan's Royal Palace until October 24. These include the Pope John Paul meteorite sculpture "La Nona Ora," or "The Ninth Hour" and two untitled works of a crucified woman and a drummer boy.
(Editing by Steve Addison)