‘Fearless Girl’ Will Stay on Wall Street, and Not Everyone Is Happy
The real story of the pint-sized icon's showdown with 'Charging Bull.'
It’s official: The Fearless Girl will continue her face off with Charging Bull, the famed three-and-a-half-ton bronze bull that is an internationally recognized symbol of Wall Street, through 2018. Previously scheduled to come down on April 2, the statue’s run has been extended by Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of the Department of Transportation art program.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, not everyone is thrilled about what would appear to be an uplifting public art story.
The diminutive sculpture of a defiant-looking preteen girl was installed on March 8, International Women’s Day, and became an immediate hit on social media. “This statue has touched hearts across the world with its symbolism of the resiliency of women,” said Democratic congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in a statement. The politician was among those who called for the work’s permanent display.
“In her short time here, the Fearless Girl has fueled powerful conversations about women in leadership and inspired so many,” de Blasio told the New York Daily News. “Now, she’ll be asserting herself and affirming her strength even after her temporary permit expires—a fitting path for a girl who refuses to quit.”
The Fearless Girl was originally approved by Street Activity Permit Office for a one-week run. Once the current permit runs out, it may be moved to a different location.
At first glance, the juxtaposing of these two works sends a powerful message: a young girl, standing defiantly in the face of capitalism and the evils of corporate America.
That narrative gets trickier, however, upon closer examination.
For one thing, there is the background of the bull itself. Though it may seem an obvious symbol of the establishment in 2017, Charging Bull has guerrilla origins of its own. It was installed under cover of night during a four-and-a-half-minute window in between watchmen rounds in 1989.
At that time, sculptor Arturo Di Modica meant the piece as a statement of resilience following the catastrophic 1987 stock market crash (aka Black Monday, at the time the biggest market drop since the Great Depression). But rather than being welcomed, the New York Stock Exchange impounded the work and removed it from view.
However, New Yorkers rallied to Charging Bull, and the Parks Department arranged for its permanent home in Bowling Green.
In contrast, Fearless Girl, created by artist Kristen Visbal, is a carefully calculated play—some say a publicity stunt—by financial firm State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) and advertising firm McCann New York. As Nick Pinto put it at the Village Voice: “Too Bad That Statue of a Girl Staring Down the Wall Street Bull Is a PR Stunt by Wall Street Patriarchs.”
As such, the work’s pro-women message is a bit tainted. Both companies are predominantly run by men: Hyperallergic crunched the numbers and found McCann’s leadership was only 27 percent female. (Fun fact: McCann was even recently depicted, on the final season of Mad Men, as “a bureaucracy staffed by dumb sexists.”)
SSGA was even worse at just 18 percent. The gender gap, the very thing The Fearless Girl appears to be fighting, is alive and well at the companies that brought her into being.
“Could there possibly be anything more patronizing,” asked Hyperallergic’s Jillian Steinhauer, “than two massive, male-dominated capitalist companies installing a branded statue of the most conceivably non-threatening version of womankind in supposed honor of a day devoted to women’s equality that was founded by the Socialist Party?”
Di Modica, the Bull sculptor, is similarly unimpressed: “That is not a symbol! That’s an advertising trick,” he told MarketWatch. He resents how a marketing stunt has recast his bull, which he described as “a symbol for America … of prosperity and for strength,” as some kind of villain.
According to the New York Post, Di Modica has even threatened to sue SSGA for copyright infringement if the artwork is not moved. He has allegedly demanded the company remove all images from its website that feature Charging Bull with The Fearless Girl.
Such controversies aside, Fearless Girl has been an undeniable hit among tourists—though not always in the way one might have hoped. Earlier this month Inside Edition caught a man pretending to have intercourse with the statue, interrupting a group of families who had been appreciating the work.
An onlooker described the scene: “Almost as if out of central casting, some Wall Street finance broseph appeared and started humping the statue while his gross date rape-y friends laughed and cheered him on.”
Such distasteful behavior stands only to prove the need for art to help spread feminist ideals on Wall Street—now that The Fearless Girl is sticking around, here’s hoping that she rises above the level of corporate branding and encourages big business to have real conversations about women’s equality.
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