“Fearless Girl” Was Cool. Now It’s My Turn!

 

In case you’ve missed the controversy over the past couple of months, an artist named Kristen Visbal recently sculpted a statue called Fearless Girl, which depicts a little girl in a flamboyantly defiant pose. Visbal then placed Fearless Girl in front of a much more famous statue: Charging Bull. In doing so, Visbal has staged a wonderfully dramatic scene: It looks as if a giant bull is rushing the girl, and that she is completely undaunted.

Charging Bull is that giant Wall Street bull you’ve seen in a hundred movies. It has become an icon for America’s can-do spirit and economic vitality. This is exactly what the Bull’s creator intended it to mean. So, if the Bull represents America’s financial strength, you may ask, what sense does it make to place a sassy little girl in front of it?

Ah! But that was before. The Bull once represented economic strength, but the Bull has been recast. He is no longer the hero of the story. He is now the villain. According to Ms. Visbal and her patrons, the little girl represents women in leadership, and the Bull now stands for a cruel patriarchy that seeks to gore to death the aspirations of little girls everywhere.

Fearless Girl’s visit to Bowling Green Park was supposed to last no more than a week, as part of an International Women’s Day celebration, but the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, has extended the permit until the next International Women’s Day ten months from now. Many people are already arguing that Fearless Girl should stay indefinitely, permanently recasting the Bull as a symbol of woman-hating.

Naturally, the sculptor of the Bull is not thrilled. He’s an old Italian immigrant named Arturo Di Modica, who thinks his statue ought to remain a separate work of art, rather than becoming part of somebody else’s sculpture. After all, Charging Bull is his best-known work, and he spent two years and over $300,000 of his own money making it. He has politely asked Fearless Girl to leave.

Mayor de Blasio has ridiculed Mr. Modica’s request, saying that he would not remove statues just because “someone was offended.” Mr. de Blasio, as is often the case, seems to have missed the point. Mr. Modica is not simply taking offense. His world-famous work of art has been highjacked to serve somebody else’s vision.

If this conflict were to end up in federal court, Mr. Modica would likely win, but I want to make a different point: allowing Fearless Girl to stay put against Mr. Modica’s wishes is immoral. Whether you follow the Golden Rule or the Categorical Imperative, something you do is immoral if: you don’t want everybody else acting the same way. So, to illustrate the point, let’s imagine a world where I do unto Ms. Visbal as she has done unto Mr. Modica.

What if…I added a slightly larger-than-life bronze statue called American Soldier next to Fearless Girl, demonstrating, of course, that girls can be fearless in this country only because of burly men who are willing to fight for their rights.

What if…I added a giant matador to the scene and surrounded Fearless Girl with a small group of cheering Spanish spectators. Then, the statue would be about bullfighting, and the little girl would be cast in a bit role as an obnoxious, morally preening American who disapproves of the sport.

What if…I added a lot of people in ancient middle-eastern garb, bowing to the great Bull. This would cast the Bull as the ancient middle eastern idol Baal (who was usually depicted as a bull or a man with a bull’s head). And the girl? She would be cast as an ancient Israelite who refuses to bow before the false god.

I imagine Mayor de Blasio wouldn’t like my ideas. He probably would refuse to permit any of my proposed statuary to share Bowling Green Park with Charging Bull and Fearless Girl – and not only because my ideas are not very clever, but also because any one of them would alter the message currently communicated by Fearless Girl. Ms. Visbal’s statue may remain untouched by my proposed additions, but its essence would be lost. After all, Fearless Girl was not meant to be a damsel in distress or a disapproving spectator or a biblical heroine. By the same token, Mr. Modica’s Charging Bull was never meant to symbolize the subjugation of American women.

I feel sorry for Ms. Visbal. Her statue is beautiful and her idea is clever. But her vision should not come at the cost of someone else’s. She simply has no right.

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  1. TooShy Coolidge
    TooShy
    @TooShy

    I’m . . . not sure.

    I gave this post a like, because I think the ideas in it are very interesting.

    And I love imagining the new statues you describe, particularly American Soldier, protecting Fearless Girl.

    But to say that an art work cannot or should not have another artwork near it, because that changes the meaning . . . I see an analogy with that whole “cultural appropriation” thing, which I hate.

    Each generation reinterprets the art of the past in a new way. That is something that happens, that must happen for us not to stagnate. Every time we take a cultural reference and use it in a new way, we are reinterpreting it.

    Yet I agree with you that the whole fuss and blather about Fearless Girl is irritating, largely I think, because the fans of Fearless Girl are so sanctimoniously smug about it.

    • #1
  2. Travis Vaden Inactive
    Travis Vaden
    @TravisVaden

    Hi @tooshy,

    But to say that an art work cannot or should not have another artwork near it, because that changes the meaning . . . I see an analogy with that whole “cultural appropriation” thing, which I hate.

    I don’t like the cultural appropriation charges either. And I understand the concern with formulating a rule that two pieces of art should not be too close together for fear of confusion (as they often are in museums).

    But here, it’s not just incidental proximity. Fearless Girl is meant to interact with Charging Bull – to be seen as one sculpture. Fearless Girl makes no sense without Charging Bull. (The opposite is not true.)

    Each generation reinterprets the art of the past in a new way. That is something that happens, that must happen for us not to stagnate. Every time we take a cultural reference and use it in a new way, we are reinterpreting it.

    That’s a very good point. I think it is morally OK for her to create a duplicate of the bull somewhere else and place her Fearless Girl in front of it. (She may run into a copyright problem, but there are several defenses she could use since she is adding to and altering the meaning of the work.) I think we have to think of sculpture a little differently than much of the art we consume on a daily basis. Unlike a song recording or a book, a sculpture is an actual artifact – a physical thing that is the art. If I burn a book there are other copies. If I sample your hook, the original song still exists. Taking a copy and altering it is fine. Ruining the original is not.

    • #2
  3. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    I do not know the provenance, but I saw a wag on the internet say that the thing to do would be to turn “Charging Bull” around, so that “Fearless Girl” would be behind the bull instead of facing it.

     

    • #3
  4. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    Thank you for this post; totally agree with everything you have said. The fearless girl statue should be removed and put somewhere else.

    • #4
  5. The Whether Man Inactive
    The Whether Man
    @TheWhetherMan

    Interestingly, all my liberal friends are opposed to Fearless Girl and side with Mr. Modica.  The reason is that Fearless Girl was commissioned by an evil financial corporation for free advertising (and boy, did that work).

    • #5
  6. TooShy Coolidge
    TooShy
    @TooShy

     

    I thought of another take, to go along with your ideas of putting the statue of a soldier or a matador next to Fearless Girl.

    Place the statue of a slaughtered baby calf at the feet of Fearless Girl. Make the dead calf as cute as possible. This turns Fearless Girl into a meat-eater, a predator, a hunter. And it means that Charging Bull then becomes the bereaved parent, because Fearless Girl has just killed his child.

    That would be sure to upset Miss Visbal and Mayor de Blasio!

    • #6
  7. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Travis Vaden: I feel sorry for Ms. Visbal. Her statue is beautiful and her idea is clever. But her vision should not come at the cost of someone else’s. She simply has no right.

    Travis,

    The statue isn’t beautiful and the idea isn’t clever. She is pushing a banal Marxist idea with a little extra Jungian twist. The fact that she is defacing someone else’s artwork is just standard practice for leftists. They don’t recognize the “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” fundamental. They pre-manufacture an absurd ideological framework and expect reality to be forced into it.

    No, not the Golden Rule the left prefers the Procrustean Bed.

    Somebody text Theseus immediately.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #7
  8. JcTPatriot Inactive
    JcTPatriot
    @JcTPatriot

    Good Post. You got my mind whirling again.

    How about this:

    On either side of the bull, standing in support of the bull (America) would be a group of your average Conservative Americans, all wearing Make America Great Again hats. All of them are laughing, or chortling, or giggling, while pointing at the stupid girl who thinks she can stop America with her silly, immature, Socialist claptrap.

    • #8
  9. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    You’ve got the right idea that immorality is going on, but you don’t quite nail the source correctly. You see, this is all about property rights. Obviously, Mr. Modica owns his piece of artwork, but it’s placed on “public property” by the grace of government. So Modica is at the whim of de Blasio, which can be seen by his dubious defence of his decision.

    Modica doesn’t own the way his artwork interacts with other things around it or the way people interpret it. He is of course free to remove it.

    So, the city is being immoral, but it’s because it’s wrong for cities to “own” property (since its ownership depends on authority, funded by confiscation, enforced by its own authority, ostensibly derived from democracy), but it is not specifically immoral for the city to allow the change in the artwork for it’s own sake. Artists don’t own the interpretation of their artwork throughout all time.

    I know this is a can of worms, and I don’t want to derail your thread, but since you brought up immorality, I felt the need to state what I see as the real source of it.

    • #9
  10. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Mike H (View Comment):
    You’ve got the right idea that immorality is going on, but you don’t quite nail the source correctly. You see, this is all about property rights. Obviously, Mr. Modica owns his piece of artwork, but it’s placed on “public property” by the grace of government. So Modica is at the whim of de Blasio, which can be seen by his dubious defence of his decision.

    Modica doesn’t own the way his artwork interacts with other things around it or the way people interpret it. He is of course free to remove it.

    So, the city is being immoral, but it’s because it’s wrong for cities to “own” property (since its ownership depends on authority, funded by confiscation, enforced by its own authority, ostensibly derived from democracy), but it is not specifically immoral for the city to allow the change in the artwork for it’s own sake. Artists don’t own the interpretation of their artwork throughout all time.

    I know this is a can of worms, and I don’t want to derail your thread, but since you brought up immorality, I felt the need to state what I see as the real source of it.

    Mike,

    Before you assert the city’s right to do whatever it pleases we should look at the agreement that the city signed with Modica. Most modern artists capable of such a grand work are not unsophisticated people. Modica may very well have had the city sign an agreement about where and how the work of art could be placed. According to the terms of such an agreement, he may very well have grounds for a very winnable lawsuit.

    Of course, once language can be changed at will and contracts thus be reinterpreted by totally unoriginal meanings anything is possible. This is why the rule of law itself depends on “originalism”. Luckily we have Justice Gorsuch on the Supreme Court now. If Trump did nothing else but put Justice Gorsuch on the Court it would be well worth having him as president.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #10
  11. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I agree that the altering of the first artist’s bull sculpture by placing another statue near enough to it that it has become part of the original sculpture is an immoral action on the part of the second artist.

    However, as to the second artist’s or the city’s right to do this, it seems to me to be a free speech issue. If someone put up a statue of Mao somewhere in a public venue showing Mao surrounded by happy children, I might want to exercise my right to speak freely and add some sculptures of corpses around the original sculpture. In this case, if the artist signed over his copyright to New York City, which is actually very possible, and he did not retain the right to approve the display, then the city can do whatever it wants with the sculpture–including defacing it or destroying it, perhaps.

    In terms of copyright, I know that the right to parody an original work has been upheld by the courts (see the interesting case of The Wind Done Gone).

    The bull sculpture case will be fascinating to watch play out over the next years. There are truly compelling arguments on both sides.

    To me, the newly created art with the little girl looks like a scene from Beauty and the Beast, and if I’m seeing that, others are too. Which creates another legal wrinkle.

    • #11
  12. Travis Vaden Inactive
    Travis Vaden
    @TravisVaden

    Hi @mikeh

    Obviously, Mr. Modica owns his piece of artwork, but it’s placed on “public property” by the grace of government. So Modica is at the whim of de Blasio, which can be seen by his dubious defence of his decision.

    Modica doesn’t own the way his artwork interacts with other things around it or the way people interpret it. He is of course free to remove it.

    I didn’t want into get to legal rights in this post, but there is an additional body of law that protects the work of sculptors: the Visual Artists Rights (17 US Code § 106A)(“VARA”). This law bestows a legally-binding, non-transferable right to visual artists like Mr. Modica. VARA grants the artist certain control of how their work is displayed, even if they don’t own the physical piece or the copyright.

    VARA applies to pieces: (1) created after December 1, 1990 or (2) owned by the author prior to that date. It is not completely clear if Modica owns the statue now. But if he owned it on December 1, 1990, he can make a VARA claim as long as a copyright exists on the work (whether or not the copyright is owned by him).

    (By the way, an artist can waive these rights via contract, but he cannot transfer them.)

    • #12
  13. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Once something has been produced and shared, it becomes open to interpretation and re-interpretation. Such re-appropriation may not be nice, but I think it is entirely correct nevertheless.

     

    • #13
  14. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Travis Vaden (View Comment):
    I didn’t want into get to legal rights in this post, but there is an additional body of law that protects the work of sculptors: the Visual Artists Rights (17 US Code § 106A)(“VARA”). This law bestows a legally-binding, non-transferable right to visual artists like Mr. Modica. VARA grants the artist certain control of how their work is displayed, even if they don’t own the physical piece or the copyright.

    VARA applies to pieces: (1) created after December 1, 1990 or (2) owned by the author prior to that date. It is not completely clear if Modica owns the statue now. But if he owned it on December 1, 1990, he can make a VARA claim as long as a copyright exists on the work (whether or not the copyright is owned by him).

    (By the way, an artist can waive these rights via contract, but he cannot transfer them.)

    Interesting. I was wondering about that.

    These are complex issues.

    • #14
  15. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    MJBubba (View Comment):
    I do not know the provenance, but I saw a wag on the internet say that the thing to do would be to turn “Charging Bull” around, so that “Fearless Girl” would be behind the bull instead of facing it.

    I like it! Or, remove the bull to another location and leave the Brave Girl to “bravely” face the nothingness the Left holds so dear. Or, replace the bull with something that shows the absurdity of feminists’ claim of oppression in the West. Maybe a bronze Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

    • #15
  16. @gossamer Coolidge
    @gossamer
    @GossamerCat

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    You’ve got the right idea that immorality is going on, but you don’t quite nail the source correctly. You see, this is all about property rights. Obviously, Mr. Modica owns his piece of artwork, but it’s placed on “public property” by the grace of government. So Modica is at the whim of de Blasio, which can be seen by his dubious defence of his decision.

    I was reading an article in the NY Post yesterday about graffiti artists threatening to sue McDonald’s for using their artwork as a backdrop in an advertisement in the Netherlands.   I don’t know if the suit would have any merit, but there was an interesting quote in the article from the artists’ lawyer:

    “There’s a misconception that public art is free to use, says the artists’ lawyer, Andrew Gerber.”

    If this is true, then perhaps the commercial entity that sponsored Fearless Girl did not have a right to co-opt his statue without his permission.

    But regardless of whether it is legal or not, I agree with this post that it really is a “do unto others” situation.  Just because someone can legally do something, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.  Is co-opting public art within another work always wrong?  I suspect not.  But in this particular case, given the nature of the piece, the spirit in which it was given, the sacrifice the artist made to make the gift, and the fact that he is still alive and upset about it, I would remove the girl as a gesture of respect.

    • #16
  17. James Gawron Thatcher
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    @gossamer (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    You’ve got the right idea that immorality is going on, but you don’t quite nail the source correctly. You see, this is all about property rights. Obviously, Mr. Modica owns his piece of artwork, but it’s placed on “public property” by the grace of government. So Modica is at the whim of de Blasio, which can be seen by his dubious defence of his decision.

    I was reading an article in the NY Post yesterday about graffiti artists threatening to sue McDonald’s for using their artwork as a backdrop in an advertisement in the Netherlands. I don’t know if the suit would have any merit, but there was an interesting quote in the article from the artists’ lawyer:

    “There’s a misconception that public art is free to use, says the artists’ lawyer, Andrew Gerber.”

    If this is true, then perhaps the commercial entity that sponsored Fearless Girl did not have a right to co-opt his statue without his permission.

    But regardless of whether it is legal or not, I agree with this post that it really is a “do unto others” situation. Just because someone can legally do something, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Is co-opting public art within another work always wrong? I suspect not. But in this particular case, given the nature of the piece, the spirit in which it was given, the sacrifice the artist made to make the gift, and the fact that he is still alive and upset about it, I would remove the girl as a gesture of respect.

    goss,

    Somehow the quote came through as mine. Mike H’s comment had the quoted text. I am of the opinion that there may be an express warranty in the agreement made between the city and Mr. Modica. If there is no express warranty then there may be an implied warranty that although harder to define exists in this case.

    Certainly, your comment about a gesture of respect is completely true. However, leftists like the one who did the little girl sculpture and the hamfisted De Blasio are generally tone deaf to respect.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #17
  18. TempTime Member
    TempTime
    @TempTime

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    Travis Vaden: I feel sorry for Ms. Visbal. Her statue is beautiful and her idea is clever. But her vision should not come at the cost of someone else’s. She simply has no right.

    Travis,

    The statue isn’t beautiful and the idea isn’t clever. She is pushing a banal Marxist idea with a little extra Jungian twist. The fact that she is defacing someone else’s artwork is just standard practice for leftists. They don’t recognize the “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” fundamental. They pre-manufacture an absurd ideological framework and expect reality to be forced into it.

    No, not the Golden Rule the left prefers the Procrustean Bed.

    Somebody text Theseus immediately.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Had to quote your entire post @jamesgawron, because the system only allowed me to “like” your comment once and I wanted to like it a hundred times.

     

    • #18
  19. jonb60173 Member
    jonb60173
    @jonb60173

    I agree with everything you say.  Modica created his bull and it represents what he as the creator wants it to represent.  To allow someone elses imagination to incorporate his art into their art changes the intent of Modica, therefore nulling any agreement he had with whoever originally.  Modica should be able to control his art as was meant, even if it’s at the expense of De Blasio.

     

    • #19
  20. TempTime Member
    TempTime
    @TempTime

    As  the  Fearless Girl statute is meaningless without Mr. Di Modica’s statute I would argue the creator of the Fearless Girl statue is effectively guilty of theft.   She owes Mr. Di Modica’s for the theft of his artistic product; at least to the tune of $300,000.  This is before the assessment of interest on the $300,000 investment back to 1989, damages to Mr. DiModica’s reputation, damage to the value of the statute, damage to the statute display, emotional damages, loss of public goodwill and attorney fees.  Give me a few minutes and I think I could come up some additional financial compensation due Mr. Di Modica.

    There is a cost to usurping someone else’s work to claim as your own; she must be made to pay.

    • #20
  21. @gossamer Coolidge
    @gossamer
    @GossamerCat

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    Certainly, your comment about a gesture of respect is completely true. However, leftists like the one who did the little girl sculpture and the hamfisted De Blasio are generally tone deaf to respect.

     

    Alas, Jim, you are correct, at least for the ones that shout the loudest.  I heard Richard Dreyfuss on Tucker Carlson the other night talking about civics.  The exchange was so respectful on both sides, I actually started to tear up.  Made me realize how much I miss liberalism in its classical sense and good manners both.

    • #21
  22. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    TempTime (View Comment):
    As the Fearless Girl statute is meaningless without Mr. Di Modica’s statute…

    And that’s the irony. The bull stands on its own. The Fearless Girl only has meaning with reference to the bull, thus proving by demonstration the dependency of feminism on original masculine creativity.

    • #22
  23. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    In any case, what sort of fool simply stands defiantly in front of a charging bull? Matadors don’t. Rodeo cowboys don’t – even rodeo clowns are smart enough to get out of the way. A few seconds from now the poor little girl will get run over and trampled. So is that the message? Feminism is a romantic but ultimately futile gesture against the patriarchy that will shortly overwhelm it?

    • #23
  24. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    And that’s the irony. The bull stands on its own. The Fearless Girl only has meaning with reference to the bull, thus proving by demonstration the dependency of feminism on original masculine creativity.

    Oh, and there’s more. The Fearless Girl is actually quite stupid, believing in some fairy-tale narrative where attitude is sufficient to prevail. In the real world either one of two things will happen: she will be horribly gored because she didn’t have an inkling as to what the bull really was, or the bull will decline to gore her because she is an irrelevant creature who poses no threat whatsoever.

    • #24
  25. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Mr Arturo Di Modic needs to take his bull and go home.  At one time it represented America and its vision of itself.  That is no longer true.  American now wants to be represented by a spoiled little brat of a girl.  Let it.

    • #25
  26. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    @gossamer (View Comment):

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    You’ve got the right idea that immorality is going on, but you don’t quite nail the source correctly. You see, this is all about property rights. Obviously, Mr. Modica owns his piece of artwork, but it’s placed on “public property” by the grace of government. So Modica is at the whim of de Blasio, which can be seen by his dubious defence of his decision.

    I was reading an article in the NY Post yesterday about graffiti artists threatening to sue McDonald’s for using their artwork as a backdrop in an advertisement in the Netherlands. I don’t know if the suit would have any merit, but there was an interesting quote in the article from the artists’ lawyer:

    “There’s a misconception that public art is free to use, says the artists’ lawyer, Andrew Gerber.”

    If this is true, then perhaps the commercial entity that sponsored Fearless Girl did not have a right to co-opt his statue without his permission.

    But regardless of whether it is legal or not, I agree with this post that it really is a “do unto others” situation. Just because someone can legally do something, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Is co-opting public art within another work always wrong? I suspect not. But in this particular case, given the nature of the piece, the spirit in which it was given, the sacrifice the artist made to make the gift, and the fact that he is still alive and upset about it, I would remove the girl as a gesture of respect.

    That is a joke?  The Left respects nothing but itself.

    • #26
  27. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    I kinda like the idea of Fearless Girl.

    I propose We have more of Her around.

    We’ll start with putting one on every college compass to show the snowflakes You don’t need a safe space, just some fearlessness.

    Fox News studios should probably have one.

    • #27
  28. Wylee Coyote Member
    Wylee Coyote
    @WyleeCoyote

    Had I the money to match my sense of trollery, I would commission a statue of a New York City police officer with an alarmed look on his face, sprinting toward the girl with his arm outstretched, preparing to snatch her away from certain doom.

    I bet Visbal, De Blasio, and the rest of the smug liberals would discover the primacy of artistic intent right quick.

    • #28
  29. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Travis Vaden: What if…I added a slightly larger-than-life bronze statue called American Soldier next to Fearless Girl, demonstrating, of course, that girls can be fearless in this country only because of burly men who are willing to fight for their rights.

    Travis, I’ll bet half the commenters above me have quoted this sentence, but this entire post was so kick-bu** awesome that my aged heart is ‘sploding with “Yeah!  You tell ’em!”

    • #29
  30. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne
    @HenryCastaigne

    Way to beat the left at its own game.

    • #30

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