Now that the controversial Fearless Girl statue is set to stay in New York until at least February 2018, the artist behind the nearby "Charging Bull" statue is worried that Bowling Green's newest semi-permanent addition will forever alter the message of his most famous work. At a press conference today, sculptor Arturo Di Modica urged the city to find an alternate spot for Fearless Girl, arguing that the statue has incorporated his bull in a "negative" way and that it infringes on his copyright.
Di Modica, 76, created the famed Wall Street bull as a guerrilla art piece and placed it outside the New York Stock Exchange without permission in December 1989. The work was intended as a symbol of "the strength and power of the American People" after a tumultuous economic period in the late '80s. The bull was shortly moved to Bowling Green and made a permanent installation. Last month, the Fearless Girl statue was placed opposite the bull as a publicity stunt for investment firm State Street Global Advisors [SSGA] and advertising firm McCann New York, in a self-proclaimed attempt to bolster women in leadership on Wall Street.
The statue, created by artist Kristen Visbal, was supposed to stick around less than a month. But despite its controversial, corporate background—the Village Voice, for instance, pointed out that only five of sponsor SSGA's 28 top executives are women—the statue became so popular that elected officials like Public Advocate Letitia James advocated it be made a permanent installation. Mayor de Blasio has agreed to let it stay through February 2018.
The extension of the Fearless Girl's stay has upset Di Modica, who held a press conference today at the law offices of attorney Norman Siegel. He says the message of the Fearless Girl makes his statue look "really bad." "The message [of the bull] is for freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love," a visibly emotional Di Modica said. "It's a negative now. The girl is right in front saying, 'Now I'm here, what are you gonna do?'"
Di Modica and Siegel argue that SSGA and city officials violated Di Modica's copyright on the bull by incorporating his art in the Fearless Girl installation without asking his permission. Siegel's office has filed several Freedom of Information requests to demand they release documents "pertaining to the authorization and permitting, location, placement and installation" of the Fearless Girl statue. Siegel says it's clear from the way the Fearless Girl is positioned that it purposefully uses the bull as a companion piece. "The Fearless Girl is fearless because she's confronting the bull," Siegel said. He said the statue turned the bull into "a negative force and threat," with the Fearless Girl "standing up to fear and standing up to power," thus altering Di Modica's intended interpretation of the bull.
Siegel says he and Di Modica agree with the statue's message of gender equality, but says that that the SSGA advertising campaign "commercialized and exploited the 'Charging Bull.'" He is calling on the city to find another location for the Fearless Girl. "We're not saying that it should be moved out of the city. It just needs to be placed in another place," he said. Di Modica has previously called for Fearless Girl to be moved.
Di Modica is not without his critics. The mayor took to Twitter this morning to challenge the sculptor's claim that the Fearless Girl infringes on his copyright:
Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl. https://t.co/D2OZl4ituJ
— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 12, 2017
Kate Harding, the assistant director of the Cornell University Women’s Resource Center, put out a statement criticizing Di Modica's assertion that the statue is a PR ploy. “"To see ‘Fearless Girl’ merely as an ‘advertising trick’ or a sop to easily manipulate women strikes me as a serious failure of imagination, to say the least," she said. "Irrespective of artist Kristen Visbal’s corporate funding, I’m not moved by Di Modica’s argument that his sculpture — which prominently features a pair of enormous testicles, polished to a bright sheen by tourist hands — is a more intrinsically serious piece of American art than its new companion."
Still, Di Modica, a multi-time cancer survivor, says he feels the Fearless Girl statue has damaged the life-defining artwork of which he is so proud. "I spent $360,000 of my own money. It was two years of work," he said, noting that he "sold everything I had in Sicily" to fund the statue. "People can do that because they believe in something. I believed in a better America and a better world."
He added, "Everybody loves the bull all over the world. That is the message I want to give."
When asked if he had a message for the artist behind the Fearless Girl, Di Modica firmly told Gothamist, "No."