seriously, the guy has a point

I got metaphorically spanked a couple of days ago. Folks have been talking about the Fearless Girl statue ever since it was dropped in Manhattan’s Financial District some five weeks ago. I have occasionally added a comment or two to some of the online discussions about the statue.

Recently most of the Fearless Girl discussions have focused on the complaints by Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor who created Charging Bull. He wants Fearless Girl removed, and that boy is taking a metric ton of shit for saying that. Here’s what I said that got me spanked:

The guy has a point.

This happened in maybe three different discussions over the last week or so. In each case I explained briefly why I believe Di Modica has a point (and I’ll explain it again in a bit), and for the most part folks either accepted my comments or ignored them. Which is pretty common for online discussions. But in one discussion my comment sparked this:

Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.

Which — and this doesn’t need to be said, but I’m okay with saying the obvious — is a perfectly valid response. It’s also one I agree with. As far as that goes, it’s one NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio agrees with, since he said it first (although, to be fair, probably one of his public relations people first said it first).

But here’s the thing: you can completely agree with the woman who responded to my comment AND you can still acknowledge that Arturo Di Modica has a point. Those aren’t mutually exclusive or contradictory points of view.

Let me apologize here, because I have to do some history — and for reasons I’ve never understood, some folks actively dislike history. It’s necessary though. So here we go. 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.

Arturo Di Modica (the one in the beret)

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. This is what makes it clever: Fearless Girl derives its power almost entirely from Di Modica’s statue. The sculptor, Kristen Visbal, sort of acknowledges this. She’s said this about her statue:

“She’s not angry at the bull — she’s confident, she knows what she’s capable of, and she’s wanting the bull to take note.”

It’s all about the bull. If it were placed anywhere else, Fearless Girl would still be a very fine statue — but without facing Charging Bull the Fearless Girl has nothing to be fearless to. Or about. Whatever. Fearless Girl, without Di Modica’s bull, without the context provided by the bull, becomes Really Confident Girl.

Fearless Girl also changes the meaning of Charging Bull. Instead of being a symbol of “the strength and power of the American people” as Di Modica intended, it’s now seen as an aggressive threat to women and girls — a symbol of patriarchal oppression.

In effect, Fearless Girl has appropriated the strength and power of Charging Bull. Of course Di Modica is outraged by that. A global investment firm has used a global advertising firm to create a faux work of guerrilla art to subvert and change the meaning of his actual work of guerrilla art. That would piss off any artist.

See? It’s not as simple as it seems on the surface. It’s especially complicated for somebody (like me, for example) who appreciates the notion of appropriation in art. I’ve engaged in a wee bit of appropriation my ownself. Appropriation art is, almost by definition, subversive — and subversion is (also almost by definition) usually the province of marginalized populations attempting to undermine the social order maintained by tradition and the establishments of power. In the case of Fearless Girl, however, the subversion is being done by global corporatists as part of a marketing campaign. That makes it hard to cheer them on. There’s some serious irony here.

And yet, there she is, the Fearless Girl. I love the little statue of the girl in the Peter Pan pose. And I resent that she’s a marketing tool. I love that she actually IS inspiring to young women and girls. And I resent that she’s a fraud. I love that she exists. And I resent the reasons she was created.

I love the Fearless Girl and I resent her. She’s an example of how commercialization can take something important and meaningful — something about which everybody should agree — and shit all over it by turning it into a commodity. Fearless Girl is beautiful, but she is selling SHE; that’s why she’s there.

Should Fearless Girl be removed as Di Modica wants? I don’t know. It would be sad if she was. Should Di Modica simply take his Charging Bull and go home? I mean, it’s his statue. He can do what he wants with it. I couldn’t blame him if he did that, since the Fearless Girl has basically hijacked the meaning of his work. But that would be a shame. I’m not a fan of capitalism, but that’s a damned fine work of art.

I don’t know what should be done here. But I know this: Arturo Di Modica has a point. And I know a lot of folks aren’t willing to acknowledge that.

 

 

 

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2,085 thoughts on “seriously, the guy has a point

  1. Remember what someone said of Nixon? ‘He occasionally did the right thing, but always for the wrong reason’. That would be my justification for the girl to stay.

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  3. i really appreciated this article. I appreciate the Fearless girl, but think that it represents something other than what it purports to represent and should therefore be deflated. I agree that there are nefarious energies behind the placement of the statue. I agree that it diminishes the impact of the Bull and should be removed to be placed elsewhere. Thanks for bring all of this to my attention.

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  4. No kidding. Deep take on something glossed over by many. Isn’t it acceptable in this day and age to become submissive to hidden agendas others have, through public art expressing. History repeats itself,I’m afraid.

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  9. I’m not american, and knew nothing about the bull or its location, but had seen it in pictures and love it. It’s a fun vivacious piece!

    I don’t like the girl being placed in front of it as it is stupid to me. A child in front of a bull like that is going to get gored and killed, whatever the gender! It’s a cheerful, happy bull though, so it wouldn’t do that! But that’s what the notion of the girl statue hinges on – the idea of a child standing in front of a real stampeding bull – and, to me, it’s a dark, stupid idea – an act of stupidity – and sticking your chest out like that ain’t going to do that child no damn good.

    LOL, my response is surely not politically correct. But it’s my honest response! And my response to it being some kind of feminist symbol, is “screw that, it’s stupid!”. Matadors and all that has ugly connotations. Even if the child had the “protection” of a matadors cape (and the setup invokes matadors), it would still be subverting a joyful vivacious piece into something dark and unwelcome. Basically, I take the whole setup at a much more basic level than “wall street” and “feminism”. Rather I see a piece about joyful exuberance being subverted into something dark.

    I’d rather it go back to being a cheerful vivacious bull enjoying itself – and “idiot child”, which subverts and casts a stupid and ugly aura over the previous upbeat work – be banished elsewhere.

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    • I so disagree with Happy Accidents! I am not American either but I think the totally opposing feelings that I experienced from seeng the bull which does not look like ‘a cheerful, vivacious bull … enjoying itself’ particularly to me, demonstrate the capacity of art to evoke different feelings in different observers. But the wonderful girl standing arms akimbo – the fearless child – fills me with a sense of possibility and power. Somehow, it says to me, these two creatures can find a way NOT to fight or be gored or be killed but co-exist. I love the two together just as they currently are – or were in March this year.

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      • Thank you for your kind reply. Our views are amusingly different.

        To expand on my view: the bull has a smile! It’s a “disneyfied” bull if you like. It is definitely smiling as it enjoys the simple delights of animal movement. It is clearly – to me – reveling with exuberant joy in animal movement – something, as animals too, we can all relate too. This is why I love it! It articulates the thrill of untrammeled exuberant, playful dynamic action. It’s sporty and fun!

        The girl, on the other hand, is static and her whole body language says “no!”. Her head is pulled back and her spine is hyperextended – with her rear muscles from head to hip contracted in a way that prohibits motion. In the first pictures I saw of her she just looked stroppy to me, but having looked at more pics I notice the happiness in her eyes and pride, and I do see why people like her, and it’s fun to see girls and women stand beside her.

        It’s an interesting juxtaposition.

        He is expressing untrammeled joy of playful exuberant motion!

        And she is a forbidding!

        And the fact that she is juxtaposed with the bull suddenly requires the bull to be interpreted as about to trample on something, and *she*, heroic girl, is going to stop him!

        She changes the bull from expressing the simple thrill of athletic activity, to about to do something bad. Her presents indeed subverts the intent and energy of the bull sculpture. I agree with Di Modica!

        Yes, that’s just my opinion. And I hope I have expressed it more clearly.

        It’s certainly fun to get people’s different take on it all, and I can see thousands of school kids essays being written about it!

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  10. Art speaking to each other… that’s very powerful to see the interaction… I love both pieces… pure expression of freedom… so American 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

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  11. If you have a look at Di Modica’s horses as well as this piece, there can no doubt that his work fundamentally expresses the exuberance and joy of animal motion. They are animals reveling in motion – the thrill of activity! This is why the girl’s statue is such a sore thumb! She is all stiff and prohibitive of motion – a stiff-backed party-pooper! Ugh! I’ll take the ecstasy of movement any day!

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    • But we are not looking at all his animals – we are looking at this particular combination and I just LOVE it. Together they make for me a new impact – I used to pass the bull and notice it but never felt anything particular about it – just glad to see art works in public spaces. Now we have a dialogue – a conversation/ a moment of challenge and excitement but also just something that I find aesthetically exciting and good.

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      • I wonder whether there is a trend in people who really like “Fearless Girl”, not having, like yourself, much of an appreciation for the bull in the first place.

        I LOVE the bull. It’s so vital, energetic, playful, delightfully animated, upbeat, and thrillingly kinetic. It expresses a thrill of athletic, free, exuberant action, which strikes an uplifting cord in me. I think it’s brilliant, and I love its audacity!

        And now in front of it, there’s static,head-pulled back and spine-contracted, party-pooping “Stroppy Girl”, whose whole posture shouts “NO!” to all that untrammeled fun! She is a little female incarnation of a “No bull games allowed” sign!

        Everyone’s reaction is valid, and it’s entertaining hearing different folks take. That’s all good. As for me, I’m going to carry on enjoying exuberant untrammeled activity, and appreciating a terrific piece of art which exhibits that so amazingly!

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  12. I’d love to see her standing right there next to the bull, in full defiant pose, both fearless and in command of the beast. Now they are partners, taking on the whole world, their individual symbolism retained yet no longer in conflict.

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    • I have been in favour all along this long and intriguing (mostly) discussion, of leaving well alone – that is, to leave the two exactly as they are clearly stirring strong feelings and much interest but this suggestion from williamsonmanner to have them side by side, I’d love to see. If it didn’t work – put them back as they are. An experiment – great.

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  14. Pingback: Artist protests New York’s ‘Fearless Girl’ statue by installing a dog statue peeing on it | National Post

  15. You made an excellent point.
    However, from the side angle of the photo in your article, The Charging Bull doesn’t look to be charging the Fearless Girl at all. The Bull is not facing her (well she’s not facing the Bull). And this is strictly a novice artistic view not a metaphor for women, so although she’s there, she’s not blocking the Bull or taking on his aggression, which would fall in line with what the company that commissioned it wanted (to show that SHE (the new index) is a part of the global economy). Again not trying to be metaphorical.

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  16. Thank you for this article. You raised up a lot of important information on this issue that just isn’t getting out there.
    I believe Di Modica has a point, but he also seems to be missing how important the new message his bull is giving us. It stood for strength when he created it, and the rebirth that Fearless Girl created, while changing the original intent of the bull, allows Charging Bull to be a part of something that stands for strength and empowerment in a very current, and much needed way. I think that’s beautiful, and as an artist (especially a guerilla artist) that should be appreciated, and I’m disappointed Di Modica just sought out to remove this entire piece rather than focusing on changing the capitalist piece of it. Does he not recognize the masculine power that his bull has come to represent over the years, and is he not willing to be flexible or appreciate the new meaning of empowerment that Fearless Girl helped Charging Bull create? I do agree with the disgust for using (creating) Fearless Girl as an advertisement – but it is a for this group State Street Global that apparently called on 3,500 global companies, representing more than $30 trillion in market capitalization, to increase the number of women on corporate boards, and Fearless Girl is there celebrating that. I don’t know enough about this group – are they evil? Maybe.
    Now with Pissing Dog joining the picture, this has become a display of anti-feminism and I hope Di Modica denounces the addition. If this guy Alex Gardega really just couldn’t get over the capitalism added to his art, and if State Street Global really is an evil company, then I wish he made the dog shitting on their advertising plaque instead of pissing on the girl – because at the end of the day girls and women are constantly being taking advantage of. But we aren’t the problem, it’s those companies, the capitalism, whatever other evil you want to name. This is just playing into our victim blaming culture. We need to stand up for our girls and women and point the finger at the real villain, so can you please stop pissing on us and go shit on those who take advantage of us instead? This was a lost opportunity to stand up for women and instead only highlighted our female victim blaming culture.

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    • You have literally no basis for the claim that the display has anything to do with “anti-feminism”. At all. This is merely your superficial analysis, based on what is apparently zero information about the actual piece, or the artist that put it there.

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      • You want unhelpful, how about looking at the comment it was in reply to?
        Again, she had no basis for her accusations against the artist, whose work could have any number of meanings that had literally NOTHING to do with feminism.
        Moreover, I did not offer my analysis, which, in the current context IS more helpful than offering fully formed opinions about things none of us know anything about.
        As for your last statement, you are merely making the exact same mistake, making a superficial, reactionary analysis and assuming you know enough to offer an opinion.
        Can’t stand feminism? Me? I was standing up for the rights of women, to be treated as equals to men, and to be allowed to fulfill whatever individual dream they might have regardless of societally prescribed roles, more than likely since before you were born. I was raised in a household where it was not only required, it was assumed.

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      • I’m inclined to think there’s plenty of basis for the claim that Pissing Dog is/was anti-feminist. I obviously have mixed emotions about the Fearless Girl, but regardless of the commercial intent of the design team the statue now occupies a social identity that’s decidedly pro-feminist. There are valid ways to critique Fearless Girl as a tool of Wall Street, but a dog lifting its leg on the girl is pretty obviously meant to be demeaning. I don’t see it as a critique of…well, anything at all, really. To me is comes across as a sort of sad cry for attention rather than an attempt to create socially aware art.

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      • Having a basis for a belief and declaring that this belief is so are two entirely different things. The O.P. did NOT state her claim as a belief, but rather as per se fact. She has no basis for this pronouncement.
        Again, I can think of any number of reasons outside of being anti-feminist, that someone might want to denigrate the work in such a manner. Your or anyone else’s opinions about that notwithstanding.
        For instance, the artist might be an ardent adherent to a belief in artistic integrity and the integrity of an artist’s original vision, and be offended by its placement.
        The artist might be a friend of Di Monica, offended by the treatment of his work.
        The artist might be someone who is deeply offended by artistic appropriation.
        The artist might be someone who is deeply offended by Wall Street firms with ulterior motives hijacking another’s work and societal ignorance to ride on their coat tails and hoodwink the audience.
        And on and on.
        Whether you agree these things outweigh the other messages such an installation conveys is a value judgement that is yours to make, but not yours to impose.
        Your last sentiments could just as easily have applied to Fearless Girl.
        It’s all a matter of perspective. But perspective in not necessarily reality, which is the problem with presumptiveness of the original claim.

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      • A statue of a dog pissing on anything — another statue, the Constitution, the Beatles White Album, a bottle of Courvoisier, a photo of Donald Trump — is demeaning of the thing being pissed on. If a person sees Fearless Girl as emblematic of feminism (and a LOT of folks do), then yes, the pissing dog statue is anti-feminist. But nobody is imposing that view on you or anybody else. If you choose to believe a hastily-created figure of a dog pissing on Fearless Girl is an expression of ‘artistic integrity’, that’s fine. But dude, disagreeing with you isn’t anything remotely like imposing a value judgment on you.

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      • And…? What, exactly, is your point? No one is arguing that it is not demeaning (though I could). That was not the claim. The claim was that it was anti-feminist. There are an infinite number of ways something can be demeaning, so simply pointing out that it is demeaning does not in any way, shape, or form support the contention that it was anti-feminist.
        And no, a person seeing a work of art in a particular way does NOT make it so.
        However, you declaring categorically what it represents most decidedly DOES impose your value judgement on others.
        Furthermore, it needs to again be pointed out that I am not “believing” anything. I am making NO statement about intent. The only ones doing that here are you people.

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      • When you say “you declaring categorically what it represents most decidedly DOES impose your value judgement on others” I can only assume you have a different definition of the term ‘impose’. Nobody is compelling you to believe or agree with anything. And at this point you’ve become too tedious to engage in any further discussion with. But thanks for joining in.

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      • “When you say ‘you declaring categorically what it represents most decidedly DOES impose your value judgement on others’ I can only assume you have a different definition of the term ‘impose’.”
        Nope, same definition. You claiming categorically that “If a person sees Fearless Girl as emblematic of feminism (and a LOT of folks do), then yes, the pissing dog statue is anti-feminist” imposes your opinion about the motivations of the person placing that statue there. Again, while peeing might be inherently deeming, it is NOT inherently demeaning on the basis of gender. There are any number of vectors the artist who did such a thing might have in mind, literally NONE of which have to do with the displayed gender of the initial statue.
        You declaring it is, per se, anti-feminist, is imposing this view on others, and compelling others to hold this view. Just as your closing off commentary attempts to do.
        Cowardly and immature rhetorical tactic, but it is what it is, I guess. But anyone can see if for exactly what it appears, an exactly what you claim it not to be.
        Irony or hypocrisy? Your pick.

        Liked by 1 person

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  18. Make up your damn mind? You either love it or hate it. What are you doing taking a thoughtful position on an issue. If you aren’t black or white, you aint right!

    Seriously, thanks for the thoughtful article. Peace, Tex

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  19. How about moving them side by side and sending the message that woman and their strength together make the indomitable spirit of America. Not in opposition

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  20. Two things are not good here: (1) Mad Men (literally) appropriating art to plant an indelible advertisement to promote a tacky, exploitative index fund (“SHE”…geez); and (2) a company like State Street can build $2.4 trillion in assets while the bravest ‘woman’ they could imagine is a fictional child. On Wall Street.

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  21. This is definitely a tough issue. What if the statue were turned around. The bull would not be charging her or threatening her, but following the lead of a “fearless girl”.

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  22. Currently she challenges the bull and what it stands for by standing in its way.

    She should stand somewhere behind the bull’s eye. She would still be fearless, in the same arena and the change in alignment is supportive.

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  35. Public art begins with the artist’s intent, but thereafter creates its own narrative story; the girl plays off the bull, but I think both would be invigorated, and strengthened in concept and power, if she were moved beside the bull’s neck, to his right; the combined power of the beast, with a youthful confidence, standing together facing some invisible challenge. Both can rise above Tom Wolfe’s assessment of most public art, “The T*rd in the Plaza,” by creating a conversation about meaning, collective shifts in interpretation, and artistic license, rather than becoming another dead lump of expensive, ostentatious display of wealth.

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  36. Pingback: Mind War: Part Ten — This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things | Circle Thrice

  37. I love that getting your first negative comment is a milestone on the bucket list here. It tells me my blog is not for everyone and that is just fine because I am Not trying to please everyone. How do you deal with consistent hecklers though? Those who just won’t stop leaving negative comments?

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