Artistic Appropriation on Wall Street: The Fearless Girl and the Charging Bull

The “Charging Bull” appeared underneath a Christmas tree in front of the New York Stock Exchange as a gift to the city on the morning of December 15, 1989. This statue represented the largest and most famous work of Sicilian sculptor Arturo Di Modica.  

Then, on the day before International Women’s Day of this year, the “Fearless Girl” appeared directly across from the Bull on the same stretch of Bowling Green. Immediately after it was unveiled, it received almost unanimous praise as an inspiration for women everywhere, signifying that they can achieve anything, in the face of every obstacle. However, there is at least one person who is not happy with the statue, and that is Arturo Di Modica.  

Fearless Girl & Charging Bull

art by Taylor Choi

Di Modica takes no issue with the intrinsic message of the statue, but he claims that it vilifies his own work. When Di Modica began work on the bull in 1987, Wall Street was just recovering from a crash the year before. He intended for the statue to symbolize the resilience of the American people and to be an ode to their strong work ethic. This message is amplified by the fact that in finance, a “bull market” is a market that is showing growth. Being in the heart of the financial district, its meaning was even more pronounced. Despite some of the connections requiring specialized knowledge, Di Modica wanted the bull to be something all could rally behind, regardless of their background.  

With the addition of the “Fearless Girl,” the message of Di Modica’s work is radically changed. The “Fearless Girl” is daring, defiant, and, well, fearless. Her chin is up, despite the wind blowing against her dress, and she stares ahead with a confident gaze, unfazed by the challenges ahead. With the way the statues are positioned, the challenge she is unfazed by is Di Modica’s bull, which is charging right toward her. Economic growth and the resilience of the American spirit are not challenges for a little girl. On the contrary, these things are good and can help both women and men. Therefore, the bull’s challenge to the girl must represent something else, which means that the original meaning of Di Modica’s work has been changed.

Bulls are male cows and are often a sign of masculinity; they are aggressive, large, and virulent. Though it was not his intention, Di Modica’s work does lend itself to this interpretation. The bull’s muscles are rippling, its eyebrows are furrowed, and its nostrils are flared. Weighing over three and a half tons and reaching 18 feet, the bull is truly massive. Finally, as anyone who has viewed the bull surely knows, the bull was sculpted in an anatomically correct manner; that is to say, it has a penis and, as it is anatomically correct for bulls, quite large testicles. This turns Di Modica’s work into the perfect symbol of not only masculinity, but dangerous, rampant masculinity (as a charging bull is very dangerous). Now the bull is the obstacle the “Fearless Girl” must, and will, overcome.

While this makes for a charming narrative and a brilliant symbol for feminists, it is truly unfair to Di Modica. This is not what he intended his work to mean, and it is not what he wanted to see it relegated to. However, legally, the situation is difficult. The “Fearless Girl” is not physically altering the “Charging Bull,” and Mayor Bill De Blasio extended its permit through April of 2018. Yet, it is impossible to say that the “Charging Girl” has not altered the meaning of Di Modica’s work.  

Ideally, the “Fearless Girl” would be beside the “Charging Bull” and looking in the same direction in which the bull charges. That way, the bull could retain its original meaning of American economic resilience, and the “Fearless Girl” would retain its message of female empowerment (but in the context of working with the bull, not against it). In fact, this furthers the intention of the investment firm that commissioned it, as they were promoting not only general female empowerment, but also gender equality in the field of finance. Of course, this solution has its own set of problems; if the “Fearless Girl” was simply moved besides the “Charging Bull,” it would block pedestrian flow, but it does seem to be the best solution, where everyone gets what they want (including the public, with two great works of art).

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