Charging Bull sculptor says Fearless Girl distorts his art, so he's fighting back

Washington Post

With hopes of dispensing the "perfect antidote" to the stock market crash of 1987, Italian-born sculptor Arturo Di Modica spent two years welding a 7,000-pound bronze bull statue designed to capture the resilience of the American people.

Under the cover of night and without a permit, he installed his massive Charging Bull directly before the New York Stock Exchange, a gift New Yorkers loved but New York City initially hated. Authorities removed it, but later reinstalled it under pressure at a small public park in the financial district.

In the 18 years since, it has become an institution.

Then last month, on International Women's Day, a new statue of a symbolically brave Fearless Girl stole its spotlight — and, Di Modica says, fundamentally corrupted the artistic integrity of his Charging Bull.

As Fearless Girl was heralded by many as a symbol for female empowerment, Di Modica doled out sharp criticism, casting the statue as not art, but a publicity stunt by the gender-oriented company that commissioned it.

He forcefully advocated against a global campaign to make Fearless Girl a permanent fixture, but fans persevered, persuading New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to extend the statue's permit through April 2018.

On behalf of his bull, Di Modica won't back down.

The artist held a news conference Wednesday with attorney Norman Siegel, the former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, to ask the city to move Fearless Girl. He said says New York City is violating his legal rights by forcing his bronze beast to face off against the girl statue.

While Di Modica says the bull's message is supposed to be "freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love," his lawyers say Fearless Girl exploits the bull for commercial purposes. They want it moved and are hoping for an amicable solution.

"We're all for gender equality," Siegel told The Washington Post Tuesday night. "But the questions are because there are other issues."

The specific issues, Siegel told the Post, will be saved for the news conference, though he said they do not intend to file any lawsuits Wednesday.

Fearless Girl debuted March 7, near the first anniversary of the Gender Diversity Index SHE, which tracks companies that are gender diverse and was created by investment firm State Street Global Advisors.

State Street commissioned Delaware-based artist Kristen Visbal to cast the 4-foot bronze girl, who wears pigtails and a windblown dress, and, with hands on her hips, stares daringly at the beast before her.

"We were focusing on making a statement about the future of Wall Street," Visbal told CNN Money last month. "We wanted this wonderful contrast."

The project is about "girl power," she said, a message to corporate boards on Wall Street with a dearth of women members "that we are here, that we are heard, that we are permanent."

They also drew inspiration from Di Modica's surprise installment, albeit with a permit, and dropped her off in the middle of the night. The girl quickly became an online sensation, earning praise from Chelsea Clinton and actress Jessica Chastain and drawing its own swarm of women and girls who felt inspired.

The plaque at the feet of Fearless Girl reads: "Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference."

This overt reference to State Street's SHE Index could contribute to Di Modica's insistence that Fearless Girl is nothing more than marketing trickery orchestrated by the firm's New York advertising partner, McCann.

"That is not a symbol!" the 76-year-old Sicilian immigrant told the New York Post and Market Watch in March.

He said in an interview from his art studio that his protest was not meant to snub the importance of gender equality, but to defend the integrity of his bull.

"I put it there for art," he told the publications. "My bull is a symbol for America. My bull is a symbol of prosperity and for strength."

Contrasted with the soft, altruistic characteristics of the bronze girl, though, Charging Bull now appears menacing and aggressive.

When Fearless Girl first appeared, State Street chief marketing officer Stephen Tisdalle told The New York Times that the Boston-based firm has been vocal in promoting gender diversity in the financial sector. Its own 11-member board of directors has three women.

"What this girl represents is the present, but also the future," Tisdalle told the Times. "She's not angry at the bull — she's confident, she knows what she's capable of, and she's wanting the bull to take note."

After reading that Di Modica was upset by Fearless Girl, Visbal told the New York Post she was distressed and praised the sculptor's artistic abilities as "exceptional."

"The bull is beautiful, it's a stunning piece of art," Visbal told the New York Post. "But the world changes and we are now running with this bull."

Di Modica approached Siegel for help, the attorney said. They have filed several information requests to city officials and departments involved in the permitting process for Fearless Girl.

"There are some serious questions about how it was done," Siegel said.

The Associated Press contributed.

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