Let’s talk about the recent uproar regarding a certain large, bronze mammal and a young girl.
For those of you not caught up: the bull’s creator, sculptor Arturo Di Modica, is suing the city of New York for allowing “Fearless Girl,” placed in March of this year, to remain for at least one year. He is claiming copyright infringement on the grounds that the girl’s existence fundamentally changes the meaning of his bull, which he claims is not meant to represent the toxic sexism of the financial industry.
I do understand his point. The nature of his statue has indeed radically changed since its creation after the Wall Street crash in 1986. What was, in the artist’s words, a symbol of the “virility and courage” of the American spirit and a “talisman for Wall Street traders” has taken on new meaning as we (very, very slowly) inch toward some semblance of social equality.
Art is ephemeral. Modica illegally dropped it underneath a Christmas tree at night and called it a gift to the people of this country. In doing so, he handed over the meaning of the bull to those same people. And the mood of the country has shifted. Collectively we are more woke than we were (not that we are anywhere near being actually woke). The meaning of the New York Stock Exchange has changed. And so yes, the meaning of his work has changed.
Wall Street traders are not the ones who need a talisman; finance contains some of the most blatant sexism of any industry. Modica did not sit down and think to make the Charging Bull a symbol of violent misogyny but he left it up to us to decide and many would take it as such a symbol.
I don’t agree with the Fearless Girl. Choosing to make it a young girl, this statute meant to represent the fight for gender equality in the industry, is a clear example of how we infantilize women as a means of keeping power within male spheres. Women aren’t adult women, they are girls.
That is, however, a separate issue. Regardless of how you feel about the girl’s form, or the intentions of those that put her there, her presence in front of the bull illuminates the bull’s meaning as it exists for people today, not 1986. If Modica truly meant it as a gift for the American people, then the American people get to decide what it means.