Is the iconic “Charging Bull” sculpture unfairly being portrayed as a villain?
The powerful bronze piece, sometimes known as the “Wall Street Bull,” has sat on Broad Street, two blocks from the Stock Exchange, since 1989, one of the Financial District's best-known images.
Twenty-eight years later, in March 2017, the night before the International Women’s Day, another bronze sculpture, “Fearless Girl,” was strategically placed facing the “Charging Bull.” It, too, captured public attention.
Designed by Kristen Visbal, placed by McCann and commissioned by State Street Global Advisers, it was part of a marketing campaign for its gender-diverse SHE index fund — and a symbol for increased diversity.
In response, Di Modica hired ACLU lawyers to challenge city officials and complained “Fearless Girl” compromised the message of his “Charging Bull.” He claimed “Fearless Girl” was crowding his territory, a copyright infringement, and unfairly turned his masterpiece, an icon of prosperity and strength, into the enemy.
So far, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has extended the statue’s permit for another year, tweeting the fact that “men don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.”
However, on April 27, lawyer Norman Siegel won a small victory for his client when the Office of the Mayor agreed to provide “all records and communications between de Blasio and all members of his office, State Street Global, and it’s advertising company pertaining to the authorization, location and placement of the … statue known as … Fearless Girl.”
The mayor initially said the material would come in October; now it will be delivered in May.
The reason it is a big deal: If the juxtaposition of art works has created monetary rewards for SSA, it may constitute copyright infringement, which puts the battle in a new light.
But in media terms, this is really a war of brand messaging.
Many consider “Fearless Girl” a statement of gender equality, since “Bull” often doubles as a symbol of machismo and Wall Street vigor. Created to coincide with International Women’s Day and seen as a clarion call to install more women in positions of power, “Fearless Girl” immediately sparked excitement, becoming an instant tourist sensation.
Cheering for “Fearless Girl,” people are projecting their beliefs onto “the Charging Bull,” giving it solely a male identity.
Yet inthe hundreds of media stories devoted to the art attack, the press neglected this key fact: The bull is the only mythological creature that is androgynous.
Ancient legend has it the bull was born from the union of the sun and the moon, making it the rare symbol possessing both male and female characteristics, a yin/yang of cosmic balance and strength. While the bull’s immense strength and versatility is often linked to maleness, the head and the horns of the bull strongly resemble female reproductive organs.
In fact, great goddesses throughout the ages have taken the bull as their friend and advisor. Egypt’s Hathor, the protector of women and goddess of joy, outlawed the practice of any animal sacrifice of the bull, given her respect for its spiritual powers and affinity to women.
The bull’s dual symbolism exists in one of Picasso’s most famous paintings, the 1937 “Guernica,” a powerful anti-war image. The bull isn’t mortally wounded, but its proximity to a grieving mother shows empathy for her pain, as well as a witness that judges the atrocities.
Perhaps that duality can be honored here.
Siegel suggests putting “Fearless Girl” “in places where gender equality is a problem, such as “in front of Trump’s White House or other corporate buildings.” So potent is the “Fearless Girl” symbolism,Bloomberg noted there were more than 500,000 mentions on social media and suggested SSA earned $7.4 million in free publicity.
That may explain why some stories haven’t been as supportive of “The Charging Bull,” by myopically looking at it as a male vs. female issue.
The bull’s role in history is optimism and strength. With luck, these debates can lead to further progress, since bulls do have panoramic vision and are solution-oriented.
Or we can learn from Asarte, the mother goddess, revered in Greek and Hebrew cultures, who is always seen with the bull and a dove. The message is not to battle, but to use inherent strengths to coexist.