There’s a seldom used U.S. law passed in 1990 called the Visual Artists Rights Act that grants painters, sculptors, and the like, certain protections, such as safeguarding their art from mutilation or modification. Last week, Arturo Di Modica, creator of the 7,100-pound bronze “The Charging Bull,” installed on #Wall Street in 1989, invoked the law claiming that the statue “Fearless Girl,” recently placed in front of his work, infringes on it and he wants the city to move it. He has a team of lawyers helping him, but one wonders what kind of legal advice he’s getting considering that he can’t invoke a law that didn’t exist at the time he sculpted the bovine.
And that’s not the only puzzle to this story.
.Di Modica claims “Fearless Girl” is an advertisement seen as an emblem for the women’s movement and by association “commercializes” his work. But by his own admission, “#Raging Bull” pitches Wall Street as bullish or billed as having high confidence of investors. He did the same sculpture for the financial district in Shanghai with the same sculpture by weight, length, and height; except the Yangtze River Delta model shows a reddish cast and leans to the right instead of the left. One may well ask what law he would invoke if the sculptor of “Fearless Girl,” Kristen Visbal, decides to install a copy of her female figure in front of his bull in China.
There’s also another legal ground Di Modica can’t stand on.
He sneaked his bull onto Wall Street in the wee hours of the morning of Dec. 15, 1989, in between police patrols, which he clocked the night before. The city removed the work the same day, but New Yorkers liked it so much that then mayor Ed Koch had it reinstalled on a nearby financial district street. It seems fair to say, then, that “Raging Bull” has no particular legal tenancy on the street while “Fearless Girl,” armed with a permit through April 2018, has. If anyone has legal rights at the site at the moment, it’s Visbal.
This takes us to Di Modica’s argument under the Artists Rights Act that the appearance of Fearless Girl” standing before his work modifies it because her hands-on-hip stance amounts to a mockery of the bull. He told the press that he made “Raging Bull” to hail America’s ability to overcome difficulties. It goes without saying that “Fearless Girl” can make the same argument. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio hasn’t decided Di Modica’s claim yet; although he has tweeted, ‘Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the “Fearless Girl.” It’s not clear how this story will end, but Di Modica’s worry that a little girl will take away the power of a raging bull is, well, bull, don’t you think?
#Arturo Di Modica