Friday, April 14, 2017

Context and Meaning: A Bull and a Girl

Wall street bull
Wall street bull, by htmvalerio

The Wall Street bull is a well-known icon. I’ve seen many photos of it. On the few occasions that I’ve walked by it I’ve simply noted its presence without thinking about it all that much. Big, powerful, Wall Street – like that.

Earlier this year it was joined by another statue, of a proud little girl:

Wall Street Fearless Girl
Wall Street Fearless Girl, by JJ
When I saw the photos – I’ve not been to Wall Street since it was installed – I thought: YES! Just what we need.

It turns out that Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor of “Charging Bull”, is not so happy. The New York Times reports:
Mr. Di Modica said that “Fearless Girl” was an insult to his work, which he created after the stock market crashes in the late 1980s. “She’s there attacking the bull,” he said.

Even as Mr. Di Modica was denouncing “Fearless Girl” at a news conference in Midtown Manhattan, State Street Global’s home page highlighted the statue for its message about “the power of women in leadership” and urged “greater gender diversity on corporate boards.”

Mr. Di Modica and his lawyers did not disagree with that idea at a news conference — “None of us here are in any way not proponents of gender equality,” said one of Mr. Di Modica’s lawyers, Norman Siegel, a former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. They demanded that “Fearless Girl” be moved somewhere else. […]

The lawyers said that “Fearless Girl” had subverted the bull’s meaning, which Mr. Di Modica defined as “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.”

Because of “Fearless Girl,” Mr. Siegel said, “‘Charging Bull’ no longer carries a positive, optimistic message,” adding that Mr. Di Modica’s work “has been transformed into a negative force and a threat.”
The question of just how art works get their “meaning” has been a matter of some contention for some time and it is by no means obvious that meaning flows solely from the artist’s intention. But I do think that Di Modica and his lawyers are correct in observing that the presence of “Fearless Girl” influences the meaning of “Charging Bull”. The two statues inhabit the same place and so will inevitably be jointly interpreted.

Di Modica’s lawyers also contend that State Street Global “had improperly commercialized Mr. Di Modica’s statue in violation of its copyright” and that the city had improperly issued permits for “Fearless Girl”. They are demanding the removal of “Fearless Girl”. At the moment there is no litigation.

I think this is nonsense. But what do I know, I’m not a lawyer. Things change.

Fearless Girl Statue by Kristen Visbal New York City Wall Street
Fearless Girl Statue by Kristen Visbal New York City Wall Street, by Anthony Quintano

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Comments from readers of the NYTimes. Some favor getting ride of "Fearless Girl", some favor keeping it around as it, and others favor a different solution.

Here's a subtle discussion of the matter.


  1. I agree with you on it being nonsense. I love the juxtaposition of these two pieces of art. I think the combination of the two will cause people to think and discuss the images much more that the bull alone ever did.

  2. Yes. A reader at the NYTimes remarked that the girl makes the bull relevant.