It is always nice to see bullshit called out in the modern art world and this has been done brilliantly with the latest twist in the Fearless Girl row.
In response to the installation of Kristen Visbal’s subversive statue opposite Arturo Di Modica’s iconic Charging Bull sculpture in Wall Street, artist Alex Gardega briefly added a third piece – a dog called Pissing Pug, whose cocked leg aims his stream squarely at Fearless Girl’s left leg.
Gardega said Fearless Girl “is disrespect to the artist that made the bull”, adding: “That bull had integrity.” It most certainly did. The bull is an ancient and powerful motif in mythology and art.
Bull worship was common across the ancient world, from Hittite Anatolia to the Levant and the Indus Valley. In mythology, Pasiphae fell in love with the Cretan bull and gave birth to the Minotaur that Theseus battled – his journey to the centre of the labyrinth and encounter with the beast representing the Jungian concept of the confrontation and integration of the shadow self, the raw, wild and brutal being beneath the veneer of civilization.
Bull-leaping is a key motif of middle-Bronze Age figurative art, particularly in Minoan Crete. Whatever your view on them, think of the phenomenon of the bullfight in Spain. And remember that these animals are embedded in our culture at the very level of language in phrase like “take the bull by the horns”.
The bull is an enduring symbol of vitality, fertility, strength, power and courage. It is also a celebration of the masculine principle that drives civilization. Quite simply, the bull tugs deeply on our psyche, on our collective soul, as a potent symbol or archetype.
And this is exactly why Visbal’s project deliberately shat all over it.
Di Modica’s Charging Bull, installed in 1985, invokes this rich pedigree and he has said its message was supposed to be “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power”.
Visbal’s Fearless Girl was installed opposite Charging Bull a temporary permit in March to mark International Women’s Day. She said it was intended to be a comment on gender inequality, particularly among the leadership on Wall Street. The permit was extended for 11 months following pressure from women’s groups
But the project was funded by State Street Global Advisors, one of the world’s largest banks, as it launched a new venture.
So on another level it was, essentially, corporate art and a cheap publicity stunt. It was about bankers virtue signalling feminist credentials and enabling a culture destroyer like Visbal while advertising their latest product – in the full knowledge that the leftist press would lap up the ensuing row and come down on their side.
The figure of the small girl facing down the rampant bull clearly undercuts its original meaning. In its new context, Charging Bull is read as representing the brutish, muscular, unthinking and misogynistic power of the patriarchy as it bears down on the defiant little girl, who reveals its threat to be hollow and its power neutered.
The concept of a young girl standing her ground against a charging bull as though she is an immovable object also shows how utterly detached from reality feminism and the left in general has become. It conjures to mind the recent ridiculous trend for kick-ass female characters in films, singlehandedly taking down multiple males in fights or performing superhuman feats of strength.
Visbal demonstrates how warped our values and beliefs have become, what an unhealthy culture her work reflects, when she says it is “an independent work which symbolizes a strength equal to that of the Charging Bull and is consistent with all that di Modica’s work has so elegantly embodied”.
And New York mayor Bill De Blasio said her statue symbolized “standing up to fear, standing up to power, being able to find in yourself strength to do what’s right”.
Di Modica rightly accused Visbal of hijacking his sculpture and subverting its message, and he is currently taking legal action against State Street Global Advisors for trademark and copyright infringement. His lawyer has said: “The inescapable implication is that Charging Bull is the source of that fear and power, and a force against doing what is right”.
Focusing on its enablers, Gardega said of Fearless Girl: “This is corporate nonsense. It was made by a billion-dollar financial firm trying to promote an index fund. It is advertising/promotion in the guise of art.”
So whatever his motives, his intervention in the row was most welcome – especially as it helped to illustrate the hypocrisy and intellectual bankruptcy of he left. While it was fine for Di Modica’s work to be undercut by the Fearless Girl installation, there was an outcry when Fearless Girl was subjected to the same treatment with Pissing Pug. The hypocritical bleating of feminazis was delicious.
Women’s advocate Amy Siskind said Gardega represented “every white guy who can’t stand that he has to compete with women and PoC (people of colour) in America”. Women’s March referred to it as an act of “male fragility” and actress Debra Messing called the statue “disgusting” and Gardega a “misogynistic, pathetic bastard”.
One woman reportedly kicked Pissing Pug as she passed him, saying: “That’s an a–hole move. You call this art?” Well… if you claim Fearless Girl is art because of the way it undercut Charging Bull, then surely you have to admit Pissing Pug is too, sweetie? Or doesn’t that make you a hypocrite and therefore full of shit?
The follow-through punch of Gardega’s sculpture was that he deliberately made a poor piece of art, saying: “I decided to build this dog and make it crappy to downgrade the statue, exactly how the girl is a downgrade on the bull.” Ouch!
Visbal’s assault on the Charging Bull is just one example of the efforts to take down our oldest and most potent symbols and the values and qualities that they represent. Heroes become villains, strengths become weaknesses and pride becomes shame.
By beating them at their own game, Gardega has shown how simple it is to fight back and make these attacks look as ridiculous as they are. His tactic here even conjures to mind the scatological satire of French revolutionary cartoonists or the work of Gillray, in which you could almost taste his venom. Or in Gardega’s case, the dog piss.