International Women’s Day in New York City this year dawned on a new arrival – a bronze statue of a young girl, arms akimbo, across the way from Wall Street’s iconic bronze Charging Bull statue. The crowds were charmed by the sight of the young girl facing down the fierce and enormous bull. But the artist behind the bull, Arturo Di Modica, was not amused and has threatened to sue to have the Fearless Girl removed, triggering a heated debate.
The exact positioning of the new statue seems designed to make a clear political statement. Created by artist Kristen Visbal, it was commissioned by advertising agency McCann New York and financial investment company State Street Global Advisors (SSGA). According to the press release, it was intended to ‘mark the effort and the power of women in leadership roles’. The young girl, it says, represents ‘the future’. Using the bull as a counterfoil, Fearless Girl was commissioned to promote SSGA’s initiative to persuade 3,500 companies in which it invests ‘to take steps to increase the number of women on their corporate boards’.
If I were in Di Modica’s position, I would also be seriously pissed off. His sculpture – a popular tourist attraction in NYC – has had its meaning subverted. It began as guerrilla art: Di Modica installed it without permission in 1989. Made in the wake of the stock-market crash, it was intended as a gift to the American people, a testament to their ‘strength and power’. After the arrival of its new neighbour, the bull now seems to imply the ‘bullying’ of women on Wall Street. And let’s not forget that Fearless Girl is in many ways just an advertisement for SSGA.
The company should be condemned for its cynical use of Di Modica’s popular work. But his decision to take legal action on the basis that the Fearless Girl violates his ‘rights as an artist’ is ridiculous for two reasons.