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. Pingback: Link Dump - Kaedrin Weblog - Hybird Spinner News

  2. The gender of the Fearless is irrelevant. It’s a representation of those who are being crushed by the Bull. That’s the thing about the arrangement. It doesn’t show the part where she gets trampled and gored.

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  3. Inspired by this view point, I think I’ve managed to percolate this message to at least ten people today. The statue has got the stance that in itself oozes deep meaning and promotes women empowerment and putting the statue elsewhere could have gotten the message through to the people and it didn’t, by any means, need to antagonise another work of art’s message.

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  4. Reblogged this on WhatNotNow and commented:
    I am really happy to add to the circulation of this article. First – it’s damn fine writing. I aspire to write this well. Second – it’s damn fine analysis of a prickly problem. I didn’t know this problem existed until I found this piece. And I’m not sure I’d spend the time to read about this problem, except the guy writes so well that I had to keep reading. Third – i love the analysis. We should all think about things this deeply, and objectively. Even if we do come, in the end, to failing in our effort to find an answer to life’s questions.

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  5. That’s an amazing statue and a good article. What I understood is that women in the US and all over the world don’t have the opportunities that men have. Also, the Bull represents the dominant men on everything, and the Fearless Girl would be the voice of the women who are trying to have a fair piece of the cake. I really loved the location of the Fearless Girl and how she stands up for her rights. Great article.

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  6. Thank you for this post! I had no idea about the history of the statue, and unlike the people you reference who aren’t fans of history, I think it’s crazy important to understand context and back story. I don’t have a solution to this dilemma, either, but I’m glad you took the time to tell the bull’s story.

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  7. May that be a fearless girl or a muscular man, it’s unacceptable. Its a representation of the spirit of the nation. And putting up a little girl who for no reason stand in front of it fearlessly is wrong. There’s a limit to feminism. Shouldn’t it represent peaceful acceptance instead of an illogical piece of art insulting such a giving artist?

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    • Shouldn’t it [feminism] represent peaceful acceptance instead of an illogical piece of art insulting such a giving artist?

      What? No. Peaceful acceptance? Absolutely not. Feminism, when necessary to achieve its goals, should be loud and forthright and in-your-face. Peaceful acceptance of the status quo is no way to secure your rights.

      Nor is Fearless Girl illogical or insulting. I may not agree with the covert corporatism behind that statue, but it sparked important and thoughtful (well, usually) discussions on several topics. That’s worthwhile.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. Thank you for replying so kindly to a somewhat offensive comment of mine.
        Just the way my comment contained harsh and borderline demeaning words such as illogical and insulting, it was why you replied me. Had I been mellow and soft-spoken nobody would have turned their head.
        Similarly, The Brave Girl stands to turn heads. But it also stands to bring a lot more than rage and disapproval and pointless arguments which may have no effect to the statue whatsoever.
        The statue is like a whistle to get our attention AND THEN bring into light the rising power of womanhood and its rightful place in the world.
        That’s the central idea of The Brave Girl. And I thank you for guiding me to it and hope that this is what will come to everyone after the heated arguments are over.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. While I agree with you on basically all fronts a small part of me says that this is the anarchist wrench that art was made to throw, all art is meant to be to be appropriated (the sincerest form of flattery), and who funds the wrench throwing ultimately doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that the wrench was thrown that is important. I also read this combination less as a woman raging against the patriarchy, and more as a girl facing the scary thing and maybe finding that it’s only as scary as you let it be (but I grew up in agriculture and have walked through pens full of bulls that snort and sniff and follow you around and watch you, so my perspective may be a little odd).

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  9. maybe a ‘Global Diversity Index Fund’ isn’t a bad thing. Really. When I was graduating college in 1979 I couldn’t imagine such a thing — I was still dealing with employers telling me that they didn’t understand why a young single woman would need to make as much money as a male colleague. ( yes. really. )
    Now that America is unfortunately symbolized by a madman for President, I think the idea of a Charging Bull being stopped by a ‘girl’ is not such a bad thing. Meanings change.

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  10. Michelangelo and many others had sponsorship by the Medici family. Arturo obviously had his own wealth. Those statues are expensive. You have to get your money from somewhere. Too often the source for that funding is used to dismiss or discredit artwork. I think in this case that corporate sponsorship is irrelevant. What matters is the relationship between viewers and artwork.

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  12. Great article. In a way they deserve each other. The bull (though put there without the consent of the authorities) is or has become synonymous with wealth and greed. As an artist myself I would like to take a large ball of string and walk back and forth between bull and girl until they were truly united by string (theory).

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  13. Except you’re missing that SHE is a gender diversity index that promotes companies that are leaders in gender diversity with women on the senior leadership teams. I don’t see how that denigrates Fearless Girl at all.

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    • It doesn’t denigrate the Fearless Girl statue, but I think it does cast doubt on its authenticity as a symbol for supporting women. The statue’s origin was as a marketing device, not as an ideological statement. It uses feminism as a tool to draw attention to an index fund. The fact that many of us feel the fund is worthy of attention shouldn’t matter. If Fearless Girl had been used as a marketing device for a fund that supported white nationalism (she’s a little white girl, after all), most of us would be outraged.

      This is why I’m frustrated with the statue. I love what the Fearless Girl could stand for, but I really dislike that she’s provided US$7.4 million in marketing and media exposure for the State Street Group.

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  14. I feel like this was somehow iconic and was making a stance of what the context actually was. Was it somehow something more than the original context of the Fearless Girl stood for? Could it change perspectives of womanhood/woman’s rights/etc?

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    • I see it like this. What’s being symbolized here is that no matter how big and powerful you are history has proven time and time again that the small fearless people when they stand up to the powerful they can bring them down. Sure some will get gored but that only peeve the other small fearless people off even more and they really become determine to make you pay. So if the bull had read his history book. He would know to run in the opposite direction and not charge or gore her. He would know that the small fearless people can do major damage If they stand up to you. It all always start with one small fearless person with enough bravery to stand up to the bull. I think it speaks volume. I say let it stay and get used to it.
      On Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 5:29 PM, gregfallis.com wrote:
      > unsilentthesilence commented: “I feel like this was somehow iconic and was > making a stance of what the context actually was. Was it somehow something > more than the original context of the Fearless Girl stood for? Could it > change perspectives of womanhood/woman’s rights/etc? ” >

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  15. Can’t Fearless Girl stand side-to-side (or back to back) with Charging Bull? Wouldn’t that change the entire meaning without taking away from either piece of art? Unity as opposed to conflict? A unity of different kinds of strength too. Or even back to back ?

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  16. It’s quiet simple. One statue should have nothing to do with the other. If what you are trying to get across to individuals is the power of a woman, her abilities in our society and to be suggested as an equal…Why can she not stand alone? The bull represents a strong economy coming back from a great loss…REALLY…one has nothing to do with the other. Women have rights and so do artist but it doesn’t have to be controversial! I believe whoever placed the “Fearless Girl” statue in front of the bull was did it with ill intent and should find something better to do with their talent. Why does everything have to be a big deal!

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  17. Reblogged this on Jump off; Find Wings and commented:
    How wonderful is it to read something that acknowledges the difficulties inherent in argument. In so many of them, both sides (or as many sides as there may be) have a case to be made. (It is also rare to find profanity and articulate writing in tandem.)

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  20. I always saw the girl as a symbol of white girl’s turn coming down the pike. She is very cute and pixieish in an idealized white way. I would have been more impressed if it had been a symbol of people in a community standing up together, not a cute little white girl.

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  21. He should turn his work 180° and add a bronzed pile of literal bullshit between the bull’s ass and the girl with a foot print in it that matches the girl’s foot.

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  22. As someone who works in advertising, I call bullshit on the complaint that a work of art sponsored by corporate dollars isn’t real or relevant. There are countless examples of world-changing campaigns that have been enabled by marketing money. Sometimes marketers make a more clearly articulated and reasoned statement than “real” artists can, simply because it’s their job. It’s not who’s paying for it that determines whether art is great; it’s the relevance and intention.

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  23. Wouldn’t be awesome if they just change the Fearless Girl position, placing it aside the bull? Then we’ll see both, strength and fearless, side by side. Men and women showing the world of what all American are made of. In fact, I believe it would make more sense, once the investment fund name is “diversity”.

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  24. Also, it’s worth pointing out that there’s another ugly assumption at play here: that a corporation can only do evil. Has anyone read the purpose of the index fund? I think it sounds pretty cool:
    “SHE seeks out companies that employ women in high-level leadership roles. The fund evaluates the 1000 largest US firms for the ratio of women on the board of directors and in executive positions (defined as Sr. VP or higher). Companies ranking in the top 10% in each sector are included in the portfolio, with the caveat that each firm must have at least one woman on its board or as CEO.”
    Yet we’re so ready to jump on board with the idea that bankers do no good. Frankly, I’m glad that an organization like this is using art as a megaphone.

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  25. I’ve had similar discussions about this topic. Another question to ponder is whose interpretation of art is “correct”? The creators of these pieces had an idea in mind on what it was to represent. However, those interpretations are theirs, and while influential, do not necessarily control how others or society view the piece. While Wall Street may have hated the bull in the beginning, it now represents the abuses and power of capitalism associated with Wall Street. This is obvious as the defiant girl instantly triggered the response it did. And while the origins of the girl are nefarious, it has been adopted by those who feel oppressed as a symbol of defiance to the oppressors. This happens in music all of the time. People take songs as representations of many things for which the original author never intended. So, does it matter the original intent of the sculptors (in this case), or what the pieces have come to symbolize to those who view the art?

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  26. I was led to believe that the Fearless Girl was to be a temporary addition. I feel she (or SHE) should do a tour. There is an empty pillar at Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. I, for one, think the imagery would be extremely powerful there too.

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  27. The divorce of reality can be no better summed up than this article and the comments following it. I didn’t read every comment but most and not one saw the horrifying prospect of a little girl blindly standing in front of a charging bull which in all possible aspects of reality would crush her to death in the blink of an eye.

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  28. Pingback: Still No Words .... | And Another Thing

  29. By this reasoning, do you accept that he appropriated the meaning of Wall St by installing “Charging Bull”? Because if charging bull is in a field in western Pennsylvania, what does it mean???? Nothing. It means fucking nothing. He’s bleating about appropriation – when he deliberately appropriated the meaning of Wall st for his own art’s meaning by placing it where he did. He also did it illegally and mocked and publicly embarrassed those who objected to this appropriation and the message it conveyed. I’m sorry, but you are wrong. He has no more right to make a public statement than anyone else, and shame on him (and you) for attempting to silence a valid political statement.

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  30. Context IS important, and the bull vs. girl is superficial. It’s curious that BOTH are thought of as subversive, but both very much a product of wealth and capitalism (I don’t, for instance, have $350K to kick around making a large bronze bull which I surreptitiously dump on Wall Street). And, as art, the bull is a better work, but both are caricatures, and the girl, despite the obvious craft in making her, is a mediocrity of both public and three-dimensional art. If the conversation that is sparked is any indication, both art works have failed to inspire much more than a binary consideration of girl vs. bull. The girl has been co-opted. The bull is all-too obvious.

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  31. Thanks for the history and context. I have more sympathy for the artist now. He could move his Charging Bull *next to* Fearless Girl, so his art is no longer the aggressor. Both strong in their own right, but collaborating with each other.

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  32. When charging bull was first installed it was liked by the people but not by the investment companies. Is it because for the investment companies it felt like a statement about what causes crashes in the first place, or of a sense of guilt buried beneath layers of callous disregard for how unfettered capitalism can destroy as well as build? I suppose it isn’t that important.
    Charging Bull from my perspective should have had a balance piece anyway. A rearing ferocious bear ready to swat the bull to the ground; balance. The artist only considered one aspect of the American spirit, power. He didn’t consider what our very constitution was created for constraint of power by separation.
    As for Fearless Girl, I don’t think it matters as much the intent as it does the perception and the incredible dialogue that has been generated from it.
    My perception is that Fearless Girl is a representation of a truth beyond the juxtaposition of girl and bull. The meer presence of Fearless Girl on wall street is a notice that women are here and not going anywhere. And let’s face it if the Wells Fargo scandal teaches us anything it is that women can act just as cruelly uncaring as men.

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  33. I think if they are going for fearless put her at the front of Wall Street showing she is fearless to the worldly things that surround us all.

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  34. Just to put an alternative thought here. What if we MOVED the girl but not AWAY from the bull but put her right beside it, facing the same way. What kind of message and context would that bring?

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  35. I completely agree with this article, although I find that SHE’s existance to be one of the most rude acts one artist could ever commit against another. If there is any morale code among artists, and I have no idea if there is, the artist of SHE should be ashamed. Maybe I could commission an angry mother standing between the bull and the girl, simply turning her into an entitled little brat? Because now there is precedent for one artist to hijak another’s work in the way SHE has, regardless of whether you liked the Bull to begin with.
    Seriously though, as a solution to the SHE artist’s faux pas, I wonder- could SHE simply be moved to be standing next to the bull? This way SHE is fearless by standing along side him, facing the same opposition as he? This way they gain power from each other and, for the most part, each peice keeps its intended meaning? This takes nothing from either piece, and gives Bull a soft side. Maybe more peices can be added, turn it into some kind of American Avengers team-“Guardians of America”. Can we have a honey badger instead of a Raccoon?

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  36. Pingback: Fearless Girl & Copyright Appropriation

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