BY COLIN MIXSON
The artist behind Bowling Green’s famed “Charging Bull” says that its newly minted neighbor, feminist icon “Fearless Girl,” is utterly derivative of his iconic brass bovine, and is demanding her big-money financier take its wildly successful marketing gimmick elsewhere and pay him damages for violating his legal rights.
“I don’t like it,” said Arturo Di Modica, who spent $360,000 of his own money to fabricate and install “Charging Bull” opposite the New York Stock Exchange without a permit in 1989. “They’re supposed to find another place to do their advertisement.”
Attorneys for Di Modica fired off letters to State Street Global Advisors and marketing firm McCann Worldgroup, which designed the marketing stunt, on Tuesday, which accused the companies of “commercializ[ing] and exploit[ing]” ‘Charging Bull’ and violating copyright laws, before going into the Sicilian artist’s demands that she be relocated and he get paid.
“Fearless Girl,” according to Di Modica’s lawyers, wouldn’t be “fearless” if she weren’t facing down his bull, and the effect that State Street’s statue creates is entirely dependent on Di Modica’s opus.
“The statue of the young girl becomes the ‘Fearless Girl’ only because of the ‘Charging Bull,’” the letter reads. “The work is incomplete with Mr. Di Modica’s ‘Charging Bull,’ and as such it constitutes a derivative work of the ‘Charging Bull.’”
Attorney Norman Siegel cited State Street promotional materials referencing the new statue’s juxtaposition with the bull at a press conference with the artist on April 12.
“A deliberate choice was made to exploit and appropriate the ‘Charging Bull’ through the placement of fearless girl,” said.
Furthermore, by turning “Charging Bull” into a de facto emblem of misogyny, State Street unilaterally altered the public meaning of the sculpture — intended by Di Modica as a symbol of American strength in the face of the 1987 stock market crash — into an object of fear, the letter states.
“The inescapable implication is that the ‘Charging Bull’ is the source of that fear and power, and a force against what’s right,” Di Modica’s attorneys wrote to the investment firm.
The irony of State Street appropriating the bull statue as a symbol of sexism in a campaign to promote women in corporate leadership is that the would-be feminist-crusader is a fairly poor role model in that regard. Of State Street’s 11 board members, only three are women, and of its 28 top executives, only five are women.
“In terms of practicing what we’re preaching, we absolutely know what have further to go,” said State Street spokeswoman Anne McNally.
But Di Modica’s main beef is that “Fearless Girl” is just an ingenious marketing scheme, with State Street aiming to make a buck off his bull.
Throughout the media frenzy the stature enjoyed last month, State Street’s gender-diversity-tracking exchange traded fund — ticker symbol “SHE” — was featured prominently in a plaque placed at the base of fearless girl, which read: “Know the power of women in leadership — SHE makes a difference.”
The plaque was removed in late March after “Fearless Girl” was enrolled in the Department of Transportation’s street art program, which has a specific signage format that the plaque didn’t adhere to, according to McNally.
Regardless, the sign proved that “Fearless Girl” was created for commercial purposes, according to Di Modica’s attorneys, therefore voiding any “fair use” protection and violating the artist’s sole right to reproduce the image of the bull for financial gain.
Di Modica and his legal team were joined at Wednesday’s press conference by Bowling Green Association chairman Arthur Piccolo, who spearheaded the effort to give “Charging Bull” a permanent home at Bowling Green back in 1989. He suggested “Fearless Girl” be moved to Broad Street and positioned to face the New York Stock Exchange, where her message of gender equality could be better directed against the real perpetrators of Wall Street’s patriarchy.
“If Fearless Girl has a message of equality, all these companies that are not practicing equality, their stock is traded at the New York Stock Exchange,” Piccolo said.
Piccolo was among the first to call out State Street’s own poor record on female empowerment, and to lodge allegations of copyright infringement. In a March 28 letter to city officials, where he wrote, “… McCann Advertising and their executives were involved and are involved in a highly coordinated carefully planned conspiracy to defraud Arturo Di Modica of his copyright.”
The Bowling Green advocate’s defense of Di Modica’s copyright was so impassioned that it provoked a response on legal blog lexology.com, where Sullivan & Worcester attorney Nicholas O’Donnell wrote that even though the placement of “Fearless Girl” near “Charging Bull” may have been deliberate, that didn’t constitute a deliberate copying of Arturo’s work.
State Street acknowledged receipt of Di Modica’s letter, although McNally declined to comment on behalf of the investment firm.
Mayor de Blasio did chime in on Twitter, however, where he accused Di Modica of sexism.
“Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl,” de Blasio tweeted in reference to a Newsweek article about Di Modica’s beef.
In response, Piccolo accused the mayor of libeling the artist, and pointed out that Seigel has filed Freedom of Information requests to uncover any communications between City Hall and State Street Global Advisors or McCann, to determine if the mayor’s office colluded unlawfully in arranging the below-the-radar approval of the project that allowed the stature and advertising plaque to appear by surprise on International Women’s Day — the same day State Street’s SHE fund began trading.