The sculptor of the famous “Charging Bull” statue near Wall Street has called upon the city to remove the new bronze girl from the scene. The girl, by artist Kristen Visbal, was added on March 7, as a promotion coinciding with International Women’s Day, and was planned to remain only one week, before mayor Bill de Blasio extended her stay for at least a year.
Arturo Di Modica’s Charging Bull is among the most popular pieces of public art in the United States. Perfectly located on a cobble-stone corner a block from the New York Stock Exchange, it perfectly symbolizes the free market: powerful, wild, and less than tamable. A perfect match of object, place, and meaning.
Di Modica was inspired by the 1987 stock-market crash to create a symbol of the “strength and power of the American People.” Working outside the public eye, he spent approximately $350,000 to craft the massive, 7,100 pound, 18 foot long bull. Secretly, Di Modica staked out a location in downtown Manhattan, even timing out the frequency of police patrols, so he knew how quickly he had to work. Then, in the early morning hours of December 15, 1989, without any notice to the city, he and a crew trucked the bull into the Manhattan and installed it as a piece of guerilla art. The city removed it briefly but, in response to public adoration of the statue, soon gave it a permanent home in Bowling Green park on the southern end of Broadway.
Charging Bull became a crowning achievement for Di Modica. His chutzpa, daring, and risk was rewarded as his statue became an iconic symbol of capitalism’s energy and strength. That is, until March 7, 2017 when a second statue was placed in dialog with it, deliberately changing the bull’s meaning, and undermine its artistic purpose.
The investment firm State Street Global Advisors dreamt up the bronze girl as an advertisement for its “Gender Diversity Index Fund” (Nasdaq ticker symbol “SHE”) which its website describes as focusing on “companies that are leaders within their respective industry sectors in advancing women through gender diversity on their boards of directors and in senior leadership positions.”
State Street commissioned Kristen Visbal to make the girl sculpture, and obtained a one-week city permit to place it just feet from the bull’s nose, and directly in the path of its charge. The diminutive girl stands in a sun dress, hands on hips, feet apart, eyes front, looking like a youngster demanding ice cream. On the ground before her lies a plaque reading, “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.” Artistically, the girl’s positioning drains the bull’s power, reducing it to an oversized house pet. The girl’s material and finish match the bull’s, assuring that the viewer absorbs them as a pair.
Visbal has dubbed the statue, “Fearless Girl,” though a more revealing name might have been, “The Girl You Can’t Say No To,” or even “Neoteny in Bronze.” Intended to evoke strength and resolve, Visbal’s girl falls short. Compare, for example, another statute on the same theme, the Martin Luther King memorial. Dr. King is chiseled from stone, arms crossed, emerging from one end of a mountainous slice of granite.
Without words, the monument declares that no force could push King back. From the front, he may look like merely a man, but his back is strengthened by massive tons of rock.
Not so, the girl. The bull could crush her easily her under its feet. Her supposed fearlessness is actually just confidence in the bull’s sympathy and deference. You wouldn’t trample a girl, would you? The girl is a derivative piece of art. It has no juice of its own, only what it steals from the bull.
Distraught over Visbal’s girl, Di Modica has importuned the city and threatened legal action. Through his lawyer, Di Modica has argued that the girl nullifies Charging Bull’s “positive, optimistic message,” and transforms it “into a negative force and a threat.” The Visual Artists Rights Act gives artists protections against unauthorized alterations and modifications of their works, but, because it applies only to art made after its 1990 enactment, Charging Bull was installed just one year too soon to be protected.
This leaves Di Modica appealing that respect be accorded to the integrity of his work and his legacy as an artist. Such respect and consideration appears to be lacking, as a change.org petition to make the bronze girl permanent now stands at over 37,000 votes.
Visbal’s girl is revealing as a piece of feminist art, intended to protest male dominance of top Wall Street positions. But why use a child form? It could have been an adult woman, a matadorres, a warrior capable of confronting and defeating the bull, but instead it is a little girl, whose only power is that she is precious. This is how feminists wage battle: neither direct nor honest, but instead playing the damsel, leveraging their performance of vulnerability, abusing men’s good intentions, knowing that men can’t resist their pouts.
Mayor de Blasio certainly can’t. In response to bull artist Di Modica’s complaint, de Blasio tweeted on April 12, 2017, “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.” Apparently, Di Modica must either love the statue or hate women. He cannot even defend the integrity of his own art. The girl not only deprives the bull of its power, but also changes its symbolism, so that it now represents the Wall Street banking establishment, rather than the free market itself.
For now, the government of New York “stands with women,” even poorly conceived bronze ones. Ironically, the decision to leave her in place is an example of the precise things she accidentally signifies: the power of spoiled insistence in a world that can’t bear to see a woman sad.