The sculptor behind the “Charging Bull” statue near Wall Street in New York said on Wednesday that the “Fearless Girl” sculpture placed in front of his artwork is a violation of his rights, changing its meaning and context.
With his attorney steadying him at the lectern, Italian-born Arturo Di Modica was visibly emotional as he explained that his work, installed in 1989, was meant to symbolize “freedom, world peace, strength, power and love”.
Now, he says, thanks to the March installation of a bronze statue of a girl facing down the bull, that message has been transformed into one of negativity and fear.
“The Charging Bull no longer carries a positive, optimistic message. Rather, it has been transformed into a negative force and a threat,” said Di Modica’s attorney, Norman Siegel. “Clearly, a deliberate choice was made to exploit and to appropriate the ‘Charging Bull’ through the placement of the ‘Fearless Girl’.”
Siegel and Di Modica have asked the city of New York to remove the statue, which became something of a phenomenon when it was first installed earlier this year, and tied by many to the global Women’s March movement. They say the city should place the “Fearless Girl” somewhere else where it no longer relies on the “Charging Bull”. “The work is incomplete without Mr Di Modica’s Charging Bull, and as such it constitutes a derivative work,” Seigel said, noting that the statue of the girl, hands on her hips, only becomes “fearless” because of the much larger, aggressive bull.
Siegel pointed to a 1990 copyright statute that grants visual artists the right “to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to [the artist’s] reputation”.
In addition to the removal of the statue, Di Modica was seeking unspecified damages from the city of New York. Siegel said, however, that his client had not filed a lawsuit yet and is hoping the city – specifically its mayor, Bill de Blasio – will come to the table with the artist in good faith. De Blasio recently extended “Fearless Girl’s” permit through March 2018 and has called it a symbol of “standing up to fear, standing up to power” and doing what’s right. Seigel said the “inescapable implication” was that Di Modica’s bull became “a force against doing what’s right”.
The installation was made the financial firm State Street Global Advisors, and was initially accompanied by a plaque that read: ‘‘Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.’’ The “SHE” in this case refers to an exchange-traded fund offered by SSGA, which Di Modica’s supporters say makes the piece an advertisement, and one that fully relies on tarnishing the Charging Bull. The fund was developed by SSGA to track companies with greater levels of gender diversity in senior leadership roles.
“This is absolutely a commercial,” said Arthur Piccolo, the Chairman of the Bowling Green Association – the area where the bull and, now, the little girl both reside. Piccolo said executives in the advertising industry are calling it one of the greatest ads of all time. “It’s a story that went around the world,” he added.
But the “Fearless Girl’s” popularity doesn’t change Di Modica’s rights in the scenario Siegel said. “Principle trumps popularity, and there are principles here. The fact that people want gender diversity and equality, great. But you’ve got to put that in the context of certain rights. If we get to the point or forgetting those basic principles, we’re out in never-never land.”