The girl and the bull

Posted: 14 April 2017 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,


Apparently, Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor who created Charging Bull nearly 30 years ago, considers Fearless Girl to be an insult to his work and wants it taken away.

Here’s the problem: artists (or, in the case of the opposing sculpture, the corporate sponsors) don’t get to claim the final interpretation of their work. They can attempt to control the interpretation, often with the addition of a title, but that’s it. The rest is up to the viewing public, the conversations they have about the works, and of course the way the images circulate in and through other discourses.

Thus, for example, Di Modica wants us to believe the bull’s meaning is “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.” But that’s not how we see it. For us, his bull has come to represent Wall Street—hard-charging, run-over-everything-in-its-path financial capital.

And the girl? State Street Global Advisors put her there as a marketing stunt, to symbolize the idea that women have finally taken their place in the nation’s financial district. However, as Ginia Bellafante argues, that would be a “false feminism”: “really, how inspiring is a symbol of financial-world gender inequity to a cashier at CVS?”

But what if the girl has a different meaning—of people, both men and women, young and old, represented by a young fearless girl who is standing up to the hard-charging bull of Wall Street?

The late John Berger once wrote that, in the history of art, “men act and women appear.” But the Fearless Girl challenges that history. She doesn’t just appear, she acts—she stands there in an act of defiance against the marauding power of finance, the highest symbol of capitalism itself.

No wonder Di Modica, representing the powers behind him, wants her removed.

  1. Von Allan says:

    Hi David,

    While you are undoubtedly correct when you note, “Here’s the problem: artists (or, in the case of the opposing sculpture, the corporate sponsors) don’t get to claim the final interpretation of their work,” it becomes a more problematic issue when the artist claims moral rights as I believe Arturo Di Modica is doing.

    As far as I know, the United States does not recognize moral rights to the same extent as the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries do.

    A good (albeit Canadian) case to look at is Snow v Eaton Centre Ltd. ( My suspicion is that Arturo Di Modica will make a similar argument regarding the integrity of his work that Michael Snow did. We’ll see how that plays out.

  2. mjlovas says:

    I have heard choreographers say: How can I tell you what my dance means? Everyone in the audience sees something different.

    I told my nursing students that the young lady was going to be a nurse someday and she was talking to bankers and politicians, and saying there is money for hospitals, nurses, doctors, and for schools,– and for old people— though it is all in the wrong hands ( at present) But just wait until she grows up!

  3. newtonfinn says:

    Whatever the intent behind putting the young defiant girl in front of the charging Wall Street bull, the combined work of two artists, acting sequentially, have blended to create a powerful and provocative image for our time. It’s tragic that the sculptor of the bull seems clueless that it has become a monster. But I suppose that there remain a handful of artists on the right.

  4. PScottM says:

    …Back in 1987 there was a global stock market crash. Doesn’t matter why (at least not for this discussion), but stock markets everywhere — everywhere — tanked. Arturo Di Modica, a Sicilian immigrant who became a naturalized citizen of the U.S., responded by creating Charging Bull — a bronze sculpture of a…well, a charging bull. It took him two years to make it. The thing weighs more than 7000 pounds, and cost Di Modica some US$350,000 of his own money. He said he wanted the bull to represent “the strength and power of the American people”. He had it trucked into the Financial District and set it up, completely without permission. It’s maybe the only significant work of guerrilla capitalist art in existence.

    People loved it. The assholes who ran the New York Stock Exchange, for some reason, didn’t. They called the police, and pretty soon the statue was removed and impounded. A fuss was raised, the city agreed to temporarily install it, and the public was pleased. It’s been almost thirty years, and Charging Bull is still owned by Di Modica, still on temporary loan to the city, still one of the most recognizable symbols of New York City.

    And that brings us to March 7th of this year, the day before International Women’s Day. Fearless Girl appeared, standing in front of Charging Bull. On the surface, it appears to be another work of guerrilla art — but it’s not. Unlike Di Modica’s work, Fearless Girl was commissioned. Commissioned not by an individual, but by an investment fund called State Street Global Advisors, which has assets in excess of US$2.4 trillion. That’s serious money. It was commissioned as part of an advertising campaign developed by McCann, a global advertising corporation. And it was commissioned to be presented on the first anniversary of State Street Global’s “Gender Diversity Index” fund, which has the following NASDAQ ticker symbol: SHE. And finally, along with Fearless Girl is a bronze plaque that reads:

    Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.

    Note it’s not She makes a difference, it’s SHE makes a difference. It’s not referring to the girl; it’s referring to the NASDAQ symbol. It’s not a work of guerrilla art; it’s an extremely clever advertising scheme.

  5. David F. Ruccio says:

    I appreciate the background, including the intentions of the artist (for the Bull) and the sponsors (for the Girl). But my point remains: art takes on a life of its own, and interpretations can and often do run counter to the “original” or stated purpose.

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