When I first moved to Aspen in 1992, and for a few years after that, one of the great joys of driving up and down the Roaring Fork Valley on Highway 82 was that it afforded drivers an elevated panorama of Woody Creek, with its funky trailer park, bucolic horse farms and inebriated gonzo journalists.
Most importantly, though, the bird's-eye view of Woody Creek gave motorists a glimpse at one of the finest installations of public art in Colorado history: a barn with a blue roof on which had been painted a gigantic middle finger. Legend has it the owner of the barn endured a particularly bitter divorce and painted the finger for his ex-wife to see each day on her commute to and from Aspen.
Beautiful and poignant as the finger was, however, it was sadly destroyed when the aging barn was deemed unsafe and razed as a safety precaution. Woody Creek -- and, indeed, the world and everyone in it -- lost a magnificent work of art that day, and we were all slightly diminished as a result. Maybe you didn't feel diminished, but trust me, you were.
Ever since, I have wandered through a life devoid of meaning, constantly searching for something that could speak to my soul the way that old barn did. The problem, I believe, was not so much that there wasn't worthwhile art, but rather that I'm artistically stupid and don't grasp subtlety very well. For example, cigarette butts stuck to a canvas, like the ones Damien Hirst sold at a 2008 auction for $217,777, say nothing to me. Gigantic middle fingers, on the other hand, speak loud and clear.
That's why I was so ecstatic earlier this week when my search officially came to an end with an announcement by the City Council of Milan, Italy, extending the display of a new sculpture called "L.O.V.E." that has created a minor firestorm of controversy in its home country.
The sculpture, created by Italy's most famous living artist, Maurizio Cattelan, is beautifully crafted from pure Carrara marble, a medium also used by such legends as Michelangelo and Bernini. It's astonishingly lifelike in its detail and impressively large, and, yes, it's a gigantic hand folded into a fist except for the middle finger, which thrusts magnificently skyward in an unmistakable display of contempt.
But contempt for whom? That's the question. Does Cattelan, like the Woody Creek barn owner, have an ex-wife he's not particularly fond of? Was he spurned by a fashion model and is now directing his ire at Milan's best-known industry? Or does he just think humanity in general deserves flipping off? We may never know, as Cattelan himself has not revealed his motivation.
Based on the statue's location, however, many people in the art world and beyond think that Cattelan is trying to send a message -- a very anti-capitalist message -- to the financial industry. You see, L.O.V.E. is situated in the Piazza d'Affari, right outside the front door of Milan's stock exchange. Thus the controversy surrounding the piece.
Admirers of the statue call it "fantastic" and say it "has a very strong provocative message." Others, who are not fans, describe it as "disgusting" and "an insult to centuries of Italian art."
I, for one, just find it impressive that the statue was allowed to be sculpted in the first place. Imagine if a giant middle finger were on display right outside the New York Stock Exchange. Tantalizing as that may sound (and deserved as it might be), do you think America's business leaders would stand for it? A million conservative bloggers would immediately rip President Obama a new one just for presiding over a country where something so socialist was allowed to happen.
But kudos to you, Maurizio Cattelan and the Milan City Council, for creating the statue and allowing it to stay where it is. Whether L.O.V.E. is giving the financial world the bird, flipping us all off, or directing Cattelan's anger at some undisclosed third party, it has a right to be seen and a right to offend all those who would look upon it and be offended. All art should have that right.
Most of all, though, thank you Signor Cattelan, for lifting me out of my funk and reminding me that even in a world of seemingly meaningless statues and paintings, someone still has the balls to create a giant middle finger and call it art.
Todd Hartley is the lead singer of the world-famous punk band Boogerfinger. To read more or leave a comment, visit his website at zerobudget.net.