As the Bear Chuckles: The Art Debate between the Charging Bull and the Fearless Girl

According to CNN, a bronze sculpture created by Kristen Visbal known as the Fearless Girl was installed on March 7, 2017 on the Bowling Green in Manhattan’s Financial District in New York as a tribute to honor International Woman’s Day. The statute depicts a defiant girl staring down the well-known statute known as the Charging Bull, created by Arturo Di Modica, “who installed his bull sculpture under the cover of night after the 1987 stock-market crash.” On Wednesday, Arturo Di Modica called for New York City authorities to remove the girl statue, saying it violates his rights as an artist (The Charging Bull Sculptor Is Right. Fearless Girl Should Go).

When I first read about the Fearless Girl statute, besides the beautifully artistic talent of the sculpture itself, my eyebrow raised towards its placement in front of the Charging Bull based on the differing messages represented by the statutes that now occupy the same general proximate space (the Fearless Girl‘s permit expires in February 2018).

I remember distinctly thinking the Fearless Girl should have been placed in front of a Bear, but as I read more about the meaning behind the statutes, it became evident (to me at least) the Bear would covertly make its presence known based on the differing messages now at the heart of an “art debate” that transcends artwork itself by entering the arena of the artist’s intended message.

A Brief Description of Wall Street’s Bull & the Bear

However, it goes without saying that the Fearless Girl needs the aid of the Charging Bull with the Charging Bull not feeling the same way as it appears today. To understand, I shall provide a basic rendering of terminology that make the shared proximate space of these statutes more relevant.

In basic stock market terms, the bull is represented by the phrase “long and strong” being in opposition to the “short and distort” message of the bear. An increase in share price is the epitome of hope for shareholders to maximize long-term profits sometimes dashed by “shorters”, who capitalize on the downward trend of stock-price based on a variety of factors, including but not limited to, assumed over-valued market capitalization, changes in management, or otherwise.


Thus, the placement of the Fearless Girl statute for those who understand the Bull vs. Bear mentality on Wall-Street may associate the Fearless Girl as a “bear”, representative of dashing the long and strong bullish up-tick at the heart of long-term shareholder value; while smaller children may view the statute as representative of standing up against a bully; while others may view the statute as representative of female gender being a more welcomed presence to the global finance world of Wall Street.

Thus, while the subjective perception of art that sparks an emotional message unique to the individual viewer can be said to hold endless meaning, it appears the actual artist’s intended meaning is inextricably linked to his or her creation, which seems to be at the heart of this art debate regarding the Charging Bull and Fearless Girl.

The Clash of the Charging Bull and Fearless Girl

New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has noted that the Fearless Girl statute definitely “struck a nerve”, becoming “an overnight sensation,”  CBS News reports, although The Washington Post was quick to let Arturo di Modica’s disdain for the placement of the statute be evidenced by his comment: “I put it there for art. My bull is a symbol for America. My bull is a symbol of prosperity and for strength.”

A spokesman for Arturo Di Modica, Arthur Piccolo, further comments: “They are transforming illegally the message of the bull. Now this girl is confronting this supposedly monstrous figure. That’s an outrage — to take a great work of art and transform it” (Charging Bull artist says Fearless Girl statue alters meaning of his work).

When asked if Piccolo wanted the girl gone, he stated: “It would serve its purpose like nothing else right in front of the New York Stock Exchange. The New York Stock Exchange represents most of those companies that have a problem with equality” (Charging Bull artist says Fearless Girl statue alters meaning of his work).

In some form of irony personified, when the Charging Bull first made its debut, it was met with similar opposition with Piccolo leading the campaign to give the statue its current home. However, skepticism arises that the placement of the Fearless Girl is merely an advertising trick.

However, the Fearless Girl statute’s intended meaning relates to primarily to female gender equality.

“Commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, a wing of a massive financial services company, Visbal’s work is meant to draw attention to the lack of women on corporate boards. As Jia Tolentino ably lays out in the New Yorker, contemporary feminism’s fixation on the incremental admission of a small number of women into traditional halls of power ignores both the vast majority of women and the ways other forms of oppression disproportionately harm women,” Slate News reports.

When The Message of Art Surpasses Art Itself: Shared Hope

It is undeniable that both artists intended messages behind the creation of their sculptures relate to entirely differing messages. While it hardly seems likely that that any illegal action has been taken, a commonality message point that both artists share is hope.

Modica’s Charging Bull was based on the symbol of hope towards the bullish trends of the stock market, while Visbal’s Fearless Girl represented hope towards more women being appointed on the corporate boards of Wall Street companies.

In many ways, the two artist’s spat could be ironically associated with the performance art of female gender equality itself with the Fearless Girl needing assistance from the Charging Bull, who is less than thrilled by her defiant presence and feels rightfully invaded upon. However, rather than viewing the message as a disharmony between the two, I choose to view it as both working together in opposition for distinction of issues that evidently have reached the heart of subjective viewers across many diversities.

To Go Long and Strong or Short and Distort the Artistic Expression

The “bears” would most likely argue that the Fearless Girl shorts and distorts the intended meaning of the Charging Bull, which in irony, is the exact force Arturo Di Modica sought to oppose with his sculpture of the bull. However, it can not be really debated that the Fearless Girl made the Charging Bull representative of Wall Street gender equality from her angle.

Does that, in and of itself, change the Charging Bull‘s meaning? This question could be internally reflected upon if asked whether inserting a father statute, patting the Fearless Girl on the head would alter Visbal’s meaning? However, questions such as those should generally be considered at least from an artistic viewpoint of etiquette I would surmise, but also speak with a very unartistic background.

So perhaps Modica sees the Fearless Girl as a disguised bear whereas Visbal sees the Charging Bull as the opposition towards unfair gender equality; however, both Modica and Visbal share the bullish inspiration of hope both represented by each of their ballsy executions that contribute to both of the statute’s placement history at the very least.

I just pray that the two artists work it out before the true bears sink their claws into the issues attached to both these sculptures that may open the door to increased restrictions pertaining to artists that may limit future artistic outlets.

In short, my point is when sculptures create performance art between artists heading toward a legal venue for resolution based on not so clearly defined principles, the unintended consequences very well may include more restrictions towards artistic expression, especially when the meaning of a message is conducive to proximate space and placement.

Hopefully, Visbal and Modica can communicate a resolution privately before this legal door is opened as I do not believe the Fearless Girl was ever intended to stay, but if artist’s wish to create increased legislation on such matters, by all means, the courthouse is the precisely the place to go! However, in the future if artist’s “ping” another artist’s work that directly relates to his or her own, it never hurts to work with the other artist before hand as most of the times, parties are generally open towards such matters if included as part of etiquette if no legal precedent exists.

Or perhaps an equitable solution is rather than looking square at the bull in opposition, the Fearless Girl could be moved to stand beside the Charging Bull with the only remaining question being who was responsible for the creation of the applicable Bear statute both would be staring together in the eyes!

Of course, naturally, my idea is more in a jested philosophical rhetoric with concerns such as pedestrian flow of traffic and public safety being the primary priority of State departments, but if moving the Fearless Girl to that position renders less of a mental conflict in hypothetical deliberation by both artists, then perhaps a private resolution can be obtained, thereby reserving the message of hope that, like it or not, is at the heart of both sculptures, albeit their very different messages.


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