Arturo Di Modica’s “Charging Bull” statue, like many a New York institution before it, has been disrupted by a new, young arrival: the Fearless Girl.
Surely you’ve seen it by now. The girl is four feet tall and made of bronze. She stands in direct opposition to the bull with her hands on her hips. Ponytail frozen mid-swing, dress blowing in a gust of invisible wind. Not surprising for girl traversing the streets of New York, the Fearless Girl has already been harassed by Wall Street bros.
When sculptor Arturo Di Modica created his now-famous Charging Bull statue, he saw his 7,000 pound bronze creation as a fitting response to and a rallying cry for an America rattled by the 1987 stock market crash. The nation and its citizens, the Italian artist believed, were resilient; his bull, which he installed, without obtaining a permit, in front of the New York Stock Exchange, proved to be resilient as well. Though uprooted by New York City authorities (who are pro-permit, as a general rule), the statue was reinstalled in the financial district, where it has stood for 28 years.
The Fearless Girl, by artist Kristen Visbal, wasn’t supposed to be permanent. The ponytailed figure was installed on March 7, on International Women’s Day and near the first anniversary of Gender Diversity Index SHE, a creation of investment firm State Street Global Advisors. But, relenting to public wishes, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio extended the permit through early 2018.
The Fearless Girl has been advertised and applauded as a symbol of “girl power.” Di Modica is not convinced.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Di Modica’s attorney Norman Siegel argued that Fearless Girl infringes on Di Modica’s artistic copyright by “changing the creative dynamic” of his original work and ask that it be removed and placed elsewhere in the city:
“Very simply, we request, respectfully, that the Fearless Girl statue be removed. We’re not asking it to be banned… Gender equality is a very serious, substantial issue. It’s permeated throughout our society. For years, civil rights people have fought for gender equality… So that’s a real issue. None of us here today are in any way not proponents of gender equality. But there are issues of copyright and trademark that needed to be and still need to be addressed. So, remove her and place her somewhere else in the city.”
Earlier, Di Modica called the Fearless Girl an “advertising trick,” unlike his bull, which he says stands “for art” and is “a symbol for America.” The plaque by Fearless Girl’s feet does include a clear reference to State Street’s SHE index — it reads, “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.” — which supports Di Modica’s claim that the statue is a marketing ploy executed by State Street and its ad agency, McCann.
One take: Whether or not it’s art, the statue is patronizing and annoying.
Fearless Girl is cloying, corporate feminism sponsored by a company that only has three women on its fourteen person board of directors. Only 28 percent of State Street’s senior vice-presidents are women, as are a measly 23 percent of executive vice-presidents. In defense of those stats, the company’s head of public relations told the Huffington Post that those numbers are “better than zero.” Can’t argue with that kind of logic. Who says women are bad at math?
So Fearless Girl is a cutesy signifier that signifies nothing, an accessory for selfies. She doesn’t challenge any preconceived notions about what girls can do or be; girls have long worn skirts and ponytails and played outside. Fearless girls are adored and celebrated in literature, popular culture, and life. It’s once girls become women that all their ambition scans as irritating instead of spunky, as off-putting instead of endearing. The same society that roots for ambition in girls is one that that socially, professionally, and politically punishes ambition in the women those girls will become. It’s women, not girls, who have pesky needs and opinions and goals and sex drives and reproductive organs that make their ambition too problematic to accept.
The most eye-roll-inducing of the celebrations of Fearless Girl came after the blizzard last month, when some news outlets cheered that the Fearless Girl was “even more powerful in the snow.” Do people know how statues work? Or, more to the point, how they don’t work? She is not “still standing tough” in the snow. She is…a statue. What was she supposed to do, gain sentience and hightail it to a Duane Reade for shelter? (That would have been very impressive, a definite win for feminism.)
The statue exists in a nebulous state between art and advertising — does its corporate conception ban it, without question, from the world of “real” art? — and as a work of advertising, it’s genius. But as art? It is decidedly meh.
Does Di Modica plan to sue? TBD. When asked at the press conference about a potential lawsuit, Siegel hedged: “We never dismiss the possibility of litigation however in cases of public concern like this one, we always attempt to initially amicable resolve the issues and violations.”