The Charging Bull: An Evolving Icon
The world of investment banking and financial services is established on cold hard facts and complex statistics. Focused on maximizing yields and ensuring high returns, Investment Bankers tend to have a reputation of being rather sterile and uninventive. It seems that apart from occasional fancy dinners with top clients along with formal office parties, professionals in the finance industry lead a pretty quaint life. Well, I strongly beg to differ.
My introduction to the finance industry has revealed to me the veiled creative and artistic side of the industry’s professionals. Behind a cloud of scatter charts and precise decimal points, there lies an element of inquisitive wonder in a banker’s mind that is fueled by the powers of symbolism and emblematic representation of artistic expression. One such unique physical manifestation of the financial world’s covert congregation with allegorical symbols is the statue of the Charging Bull at the heart of the Bowling Green in New York City.
Installed by Italian artist Arturo Di Modica as a guerrilla art piece on December 15th, 1989, the sculpture gained meteoric popularity as it caught the eyes of hordes of Wall Street bankers making their way to the NYSE. Investing $360,000 to bring his artistic brainchild to fruition, Di Modica attributed the 1987 stock market crash as the primary inspiration for the sculpture (NYFacts.com). He believes that the dominance and the sense of sheer power that radiate from the bronze bull are a manifestation and a metaphorical representation of the strength, power and resilience honed by not only the financiers on Wall Street, but the people of America. His emphasis on the three-syllable phrase of “can-do spirit” over the past three decades has become a tagline for the artwork and has described the endurance of New York City which is the undisputed universal beacon of all free market economies across the world (Jacobs).
Yet, any artwork’s true beauty and finesse is most purely expressed by a diversity of independent interpretations offered by the creatively rampant and contextually unbound minds of its audience. Undoubtedly, Di Modica’s artwork is subject to a global audience as it has gradually become one of the most photographed and well-recognized tourist attractions in NYC, second only to the great Statue of Liberty. An exposure of this scale for the 7,000 pound and 11 feet tall bull has allowed countless interpretations —both appreciative and critical— of its symbolic meaning to come to the surface and cement a distinct legacy in America’s pop culture since the late eighties (NYFacts.com). While established news houses like The Wall Street Journal and optimistic Wall Street executives attributed its dominating stance, bulging bronze muscles, and flaring nostrils as unique contributors that make it an inspirational icon representing the unbridled surge of the financial markets, activist and tourists alike hold discordant views. The bull, in all its glory, has also become a distinctly ironic representation of USA’s financial prowess, greed, and obsession with undue exorbitance (Zucci).
This contrast in perspectives from varying groups, however, is determined by the contemporary socio-economic and cultural environment that these groups are subject to. It is reasonable to believe that during the post-crisis period in the late 1980s, as the markets underwent pangs of optimistic recovery where the ideas of progressive bullish markets seemed possible, euphoric investors and upbeat citizens of a rising global economy viewed the charging bull as a symbol that championed the cause for financial prosperity. Riding this wave of public appreciation, retailers started to use the bull’s iconic image on t-shirts, badges, backpacks, and any other obscure pieces of merchandise that one can think of. In the early 2000s, amidst the height of the bull’s status as the premier symbol of the American dream achieved through grit, determination, and sheer energy, the statue experienced an immense surge in global recognition when it was even featured in a musical number for an Indian blockbuster film (Jacobs). Moreover, the sculpture became such a cultural phenomenon that it gave birth to its own unique tradition where tourists (and even aspiring rookie investment bankers) from all over the world visited the Bowling Green only to rub the bronze behemoth’s testicles “for good luck” (Jacobs). There is not a shred of doubt that the Charging Bull was gradually becoming the epicenter of not only the financial sphere of America’s pop culture, but also a symbol of visual art’s extensive influence on shaping historical and social perceptions.
However, the housing and financial crisis in 2008 initiated a unique point of inflection and change in the bull’s rise as an emblem of welfare and fortune. The mass exposition of unethical practices employed by Wall Street bigwigs coupled with the collapse of major financial institutions infected the finance industry’s image with public distrust and disdain. The people’s anger, induced by their collective suffering, was expressed through communal activities of which the movement Occupy Wall Street took center stage. It was this movement in 2011which provided one of the first effective blows to the Charging Bull’s image (Haberman). On a poster promoting the OWS movement, an illustration of the bull’s glaring visage was featured alongside a graceful ballerina dancing atop the sculpture. The image not only represented the public’s desire to tame the belligerence of financial markets which can arise due to cyclical market expansions, but to also damage the cultural prominence of the bull, a sentinel for the financial world itself.
Since then, Di Modica’s artistic beast has adopted a unique role of being an evolving icon that faces the brunt of its audience’s criticism concurrent with their adoration. While the bull has encountered varying highs and lows in its thirty year history, its most recent skirmish with a social issue has left an evidently divisive and characteristically bold impact on the people of New York. The source of this new splash is shared between the bull and a new and potentially revolutionary artwork— the fearless girl. In the spring of 2017, backed by State Street Global Advisors, Kristen Visbal’s 50 inch tall sculpture of a little girl sporting a superhero pose took Wall Street by storm (Zucci). Placed directly in front of the ever-present Charging Bull, the fearless girl took center stage and by radiating emotions of pride and nobility, stared down the bronze beast in an effort to commemorate International Women’s Day and the impact of female leadership in the corporate stratosphere.
This “extension” of Di Modica’s artwork faced a storm of mixed reviews. While various Wall Street firms, and a large proportion of the New Yorkers lauded Visbal’s efforts and supported her cause, the artist of the Charging Bull himself, along with an army of internet trolls, disregarded the art piece (Fugallo and Jaeger). Di Modica felt that it was an unfair counterpoint that aimed to reduce his artwork’s creative significance, while the people of the internet expressed their concerns about the sculpture just being a “publicity stunt and an advertising trick” for State Street Advisors (Fugallo and Jaeger). In the months to follow, the backlash against the fearless girl grew so intense that a statue of a pissing pug was installed by artist Alex Gardena next to the fearless girl in order to undermine her significance. While Gardena was forced to remove the pug sculpture in a matter of hours, he proceeded to support Di Modica’s beliefs and claimed that the fearless girl was only “corporate nonsense” (Fugallo and Jaeger). In November 2018, the statue of the girl was removed from the front of the Charging Bull, as Mayor Bill de Blasio continued rallying for its permanent installation (Zucci).
Although, the clash between the two sculptures has multiple aspects to look at, I believe that the opinion of current university students who represent the future of the finance and corporate industry is the one that could truly make a difference. One such student is Zheng “Tomás” Yeng, a sophomore at McGill University in Canada studying Mathematics with Computer Science, who also harbors aspirations to work at Wall Street someday (Yeng).
As a student who mostly deals with quantitative subjects for the majority of his time at University, Tomás loves to branch out and delve into philosophy and sociology in his spare time. “The fearless girl represents a bold and creative expression to highlight the immense and grossly overlooked contribution of women in the corporate world,” Thomas believes.
He expressed his discontent with the removal of the sculpture and says, “It really comes as no surprise that there was and still is considerable backlash against that sculpture. Change in any setting is subject to resistance.” Yet he also concedes that “it is still important to understand that the artist’s sentiments about the charging bull, and its iconic history for the city and the whole financial world really” and concludes that an “an unbiased consultation with the artists must take place to reach an educated, and more importantly, fair consensus” (Yeng).
Although, the Charging Bull has its fair share of controversies and disputes, one thing is certain— it is the perfect guardian and image for the financial world. Occupying its spot at the center of the Bowling Green, it represents the fiery ambitions of the investment banking world that aims to consistently charge toward optimistic bullish markets. Subsequently, the bull’s steely gaze coupled with its meaty bronze form ideally encapsulates the often aggressive and quite threatening position that the finance industry can take and represent to the general public in times of economic catastrophes. Di Modica’s artwork has developed a complicated relationship with its audience that evolves and goes through its ups and downs similar to a business cycle’s oscillatory movements. An article that offers a portal into the unexplored creative and emotional side of finance, the Charging Bull and all of its artistic extensions deserve the legacies they have set out to achieve.
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Fugallo, Nick, and Jaeger, Max. “Pissed-off artist adds statue of urinating dog next to ‘Fearless Girl’.’” New York Post 29 May. 2017. Web. www.nypost.com/2017/05/29/pissed-off-artist-adds-statue-of-urinating-dog-next-to-fearless-girl/. 05 Jun. 2019.
Jacobs, Harrison. "Millions of people from all over the world have visited this New York statue — here's why." Business Insider, 14 Dec. 2017. Web. www.businessinsider.com/what-is-wall-street-charging-bull-new-york-city-2017-12#even-at-the-time-there-was-some-confusion-over-the-sculptures-meaning-3. 09 Jun. 2019.
NYFacts.com. “The Charging Bull.’” New York Post 29 May. 2017. Web. www.nyfacts.com/charging-bull/. 05 Jun. 2019.
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Yang, Zheng. Personal Interview. 1 Jun. 2019.
Zucci, Kristina. "Charging Bull: The Bronze Icon of Wall Street." Investopedia 25 Dec. 2017. Web. www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/100814/charging-bullthe-brass-icon-wall-street.asp. 02 Jun. 2019.