Greg Fallis, on the website gregfallis.com, does a service in reminding us of the history of the statues of the Charging Bull and the Fearless Girl. I live on the West Coast, and the last time I saw the Bull in the Bowling Green of the Financial District in Manhattan, New York City, the Fearless Girl had not yet been installed.
But I cannot agree with the conclusion Fallis draws from that history. He reminds us that Arturo Di Modica, a Sicilian immigrant who produced the bull at his own expense, created it to represent “the strength and power of the American people.”
The Girl, on the other hand, was commissioned by an investment fund called State Street Global Advisors, which has assets in excess of US$2.4 trillion. It was intended as corporate marketing. So that seems to be a mark against the Girl.
Additionally, Fallis notes that the Girl draws her strength from the Bull, so she in effect is parasitic on it. “A global investment firm has used a global advertising firm to create a faux work of guerrilla art,” Fallis says, “to subvert and change the meaning of his actual work of guerrilla art” (Di Modica installed the Bull without permission from the city).
On Twitter, Rand Fishkin, an influential Web SEO guy, said “Well, crap. This makes it pretty hard to unabashedly cheer for that ‘Fearless Girl’ statue on Wall Street.”
Maybe it makes it harder, but I don’t know that any of this really affects the significance of the artworks. Yes, the Fearless Girl sculptor, Kristen Visbal, was paid by an international corporation. But as art can sometimes do, the work has risen above the circumstances of its origin. Few viewers understand or necessarily sympathize with the work’s original corporate intent.
Instead, it has come to represent women asserting their right to occupy meaningful space. Yes, it changes the meaning of Di Modica’s Charging Bull. “Should Di Modica simply take his Charging Bull and go home?” Fallis asks. “I mean, it’s his statue. He can do what he wants with it. I couldn’t blame him if he did that, since the Fearless Girl has basically hijacked the meaning of his work.”
That’s too bad. All art reflects upon and changes the meaning of art that preceded it. (BTW, both of the works exist primarily as public objects. As fine art, neither, in my judgment, is A-list museum-quality work.) I would argue that Fearless Girl gives a new dimension to Charging Bull that it did not previously have. Di Modica might not like the political connotations, but artistically he has no cause for complaint. Fearless Girl has given new life and new dimension to Charging Bull.