I Love The 'Fearless Girl' Statue, But It Definitely Needs To Move

Photo: Flickr/Anthony Quintano
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Art should not come at the expense of other art.

It’s hard to argue against an iconic image.

Recently, in New York, a group installed a new statue in front of Wall Street’s famous “Charging Bull.” It’s the statue of a young girl — brave, determined, with her hands on her hips in a moment of bravado — joyfully staring down the enormous Wall Street bull.

The new statue is called “Fearless Girl.” And the image of this little girl defiantly blocking the path of the “Charging Bull” is powerful, to say the least.

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When I showed the image to my young daughter, her immediate response was “Hell yeah!” and, I’ll admit, that was my initial response too.

The image of those two statues facing off against each other is a truly, truly powerful image, particularly for women and young girls who don’t seem to be particularly valued by the Wall Street bankers or their culture.

(The viral image of a dude-bro financial type grinding on the statue of the girl only reinforces that point further.)

That being said, and this pains me to say this, I do think that “Fearless Girl” should be moved.

I don’t think “Fearless Girl” should be a permanent fixture in that exact location on Wall Street and I sympathize for the creator of “Charging Bull” who recently criticized the placement of “Fearless Girl,” earning him a tremendous amount of online scorn.

I love the optics of “Fearless Girl.” I do. I love its message. But that message comes at the cost of another work of art.

And I’m not OK with that.

Flickr/Anthony Quintano

Now it’s easy to get onboard the “Fearless Girl” train when you view the “Charging Bull” as a symbol of unchecked financial greed. When you see the statue as an arrogant, self-aggrandizing image of how Wall Street sees itself.

BUT the history of “Charging Bull” is much more complex (and so is the history of “Fearless Girl,” if we’re being honest).

In a tremendous blog post, Greg Fallis dove into the issue and called out “Charging Bull” for what it really was intended to be. Here’s how he described it: Fallis dove into the issue and called out “Charging Bull” for what it really was intended to be. Here’s how he described it:

Back in 1987 there was a global stock market crash. Doesn’t matter why (at least not for this discussion), but stock markets everywhere — everywhere — tanked. Arturo Di Modica, a Sicilian immigrant who became a naturalized citizen of the U.S., responded by creating "Charging Bull" — a bronze sculpture of a… well, a charging bull. It took him two years to make it.

The thing weighs more than 7,000 pounds, and cost Di Modica some US $350,000 of his own money. He said he wanted the bull to represent “the strength and power of the American people.” He had it trucked into the Financial District and set it up, completely without permission. It’s maybe the only significant work of guerrilla capitalist art in existence.

Meanwhile, “Fearless Girl” was funded by a trillion-dollar investment fund and was designed as a part of a global advertising campaign.

(That kind of sucks to hear, right?)

Does that lessen the impact of the “Fearless Girl” image?

No. Not necessarily. If it still makes girls like my daughter look up and say “Hell yeah, I can,” that has value. That has real worth, even if it is part of an ad campaign.

But it also makes me rethink the legacy of “Charging Bull,” because the permanent presence of “Fearless Girl” does recast the bull as a villain. It definitely does.

Flickr/Sam valadi

It’s easy to raise your fist in solidarity with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio when he says things like, “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the ‘Fearless Girl.’” And, yeah, comments like that make me, as a man, hesitant to say anything negative about the installation.

However, I believe in the power of art as much as I believe in the power of feminism and I think both need to be respected.

I think “Fearless Girl” has sent a wonderful message about empowering women during a period when we really need more of that — the staggering turn-out at the “March for Women” speaks to that. But I still don’t think it should become a permanent part of the history of “Charging Bull.”

Let me walk you through another scenario…

There’s that famous statue in Brussels, Manneken Pis, of the mischievous little boy peeing into a fountain. It’s one of the most iconic pieces of art in Belgium. For better or worse, when you think of Belgium, once you stop thinking about waffles, you’re going to think of a million tourists taking a picture of that kid urinating in a town square.

Flickr/Niels Mickers

Now what if — when that story broke earlier this year alleging that Donald Trump paid prostitutes for a golden shower party in Russia — someone had installed a statue of Trump gleefully catching the Mannekin Pis’ urine stream in his mouth in that fountain in Brussels?

I can tell you right now — I would’ve laughed my ass off.

I would’ve liked it, shared it. I would’ve forwarded links to images of the new statue to all my friends and select members of my family.

That image of the boy pissing into Trump’s face would’ve made me so happy. It fits my political opinions perfectly and I would’ve regarded it as a beautiful piece of worthy (and important) social commentary.

But I NEVER would’ve expected the piss-face Trump statue to become a permanent fixture of the Manneken Pis.

Is it clever? Yes. Is it timely? Yes. But that doesn’t mean it should forever become a part of a prized piece of art, a symbol for all of Belgium since the 17th Century.

To further illustrate this point — there’s a statue that I love in my hometown of Detroit. It’s a gigantic hanging sculpture of famed boxer Joe Louis’ fist. In 2013, when the city was going through a truly traumatic bankruptcy proceeding, a local artist installed a giant can of Crisco in front of the fist to help “lubricate” the pain of the bankruptcy cuts.

It was HILARIOUS. It was PERFECT. It could not have summed up the anger, frustration, and powerlessness that the people of Detroit were feeling at the time in a better way.

But it was quickly removed. And that’s OK. It made its point and, no matter how perfect the message was, it didn’t deserve to forever co-opt the legacy of the Joe Louis statue.

I feel the same way about “Fearless Girl.”

Arturo Di Modica is not sexist for being unhappy with how “Fearless Girl” reflects on “Charging Bull.” His work of art has been cast as a symbol of oppression by an AD AGENCY of all people.

I love the look of “Fearless Girl.” I love anything that empowers women, that empowers my daughter. But I love art too, and I respect the hell out it.

The image of “Fearless Girl” v. “Charging Bull” makes for a great and timely political art installation, but it would be unfair to throw “Charging Bull” to the wolves and forever portray it as a negative image. And that’s exactly what will happen if “Fearless Girl” becomes a permanent fixture on Wall Street.

Do we need more public art targeted at calling out powerful women and their accomplishments?

YES, YES, YES.

But that shouldn’t come at the cost of demonizing other works of art. 

 

 

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