Of girls, bulls, and the authenticity of subversion

“…March 7th of this year, the day before International Women’s Day. Fearless Girl appeared, standing in front of Charging Bull. On the surface, it appears to be another work of guerrilla art — but it’s not. Unlike Di Modica’s work, Fearless Girl was commissioned. Commissioned not by an individual, but by an investment fund called State Street Global Advisors, which has assets in excess of US$2.4 trillion. That’s serious money. It was commissioned as part of an advertising campaign developed by McCann, a global advertising corporation. And it was commissioned to be presented on the first anniversary of State Street Global’s “Gender Diversity Index” fund, which has the following NASDAQ ticker symbol: SHE. And finally, along with Fearless Girl is a bronze plaque that reads: Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.

“Note it’s not She makes a difference, it’s SHE makes a difference. It’s not referring to the girl; it’s referring to the NASDAQ symbol. It’s not a work of guerrilla art; it’s an extremely clever advertising scheme. This is what makes it clever: Fearless Girl derives its power almost entirely from Di Modica’s statue. The sculptor, Kristen Visbal, sort of acknowledges this. She’s said this about her statue: “She’s not angry at the bull — she’s confident, she knows what she’s capable of, and she’s wanting the bull to take note.”

“It’s all about the bull. If it were placed anywhere else, Fearless Girl would still be a very fine statue — but without facing Charging Bull the Fearless Girl has nothing to be fearless to. Or about. Whatever. Fearless Girl, without Di Modica’s bull, without the context provided by the bull, becomes Really Confident Girl.”

Source: seriously, the guy has a point | gregfallis.com

The whole article is very well done. Fallis demonstrates how you can have conflicting views about the works of art in question while not being contradictory. But he also shows with what facility the techno-economic patriarchy can subvert anything.

The Fearless Girl before the Charging Bull should stand for the strength of the feminine and how that power is always redirected in patriarchy to serve the needs of the patriarchy. But that can only happen when folks actually understand that a corporate sponsor used an advertising company to co-opt that power yet again in order to sale a branded growth fund (the SHE on the NASDAQ ticker rather than any “she” in the world). People who do not take the full story into consideration because they do not research it or do not hear about it are participating in yet another public over-taking of women.

Guerrilla Art must always be subversive. I do not believe, however, that being a subversive artist means not having a patron. The question becomes whether something done under the aegis of a multi-trillion dollar financial corporation is subverting the status quo or actually subverting subversion, which by any other name would be the coopting of a means of resistance by the folks with all the power.

On another note, over at Forbes, someone points out why Wall Street and Corporate America are okey-dokey with potraying a young girl being defiant, but continue to instantiate socio-cultural behaviors that encourage women to soften themselves in order not to come off as too dominant.

“…the world supports fearlessness in girls. But somewhere on the road through adolescence and into womanhood we are told to put those akimbo arms down by our sides, lest we make a mess like a bull in a china shop. It is suggested that we should take up less space, soften that defiant look into a more amenable smile, and trade those sneakers for heels, because heels are considered polished and professional, even when painful and wholly counterproductive for getting things done.

 “As a society we are perfectly happy to support initiatives to get more girls excited by business and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) but much less interested in understanding the subtle pressures that push them out once they become women.”

One comment

  1. Hi Keith! I love that the issue behind these statues is murky and that we are ultimately considering what is guerrilla art. Guerrilla art, like any other genre, is a simple definition. I agree with the author above who says that guerrilla (read politically subversive art) need not be un-funded to do its job. I point to tapestries created by Goya between 1775 and 1791. These were commissioned by Charles III and IV of Spain to hang in two palaces. The seemingly gentle outdoor scene belies a highwayman robbery of aristocratic coaches. https://www.wikiart.org/en/francisco-goya/highwaymen-attacking-a-coach-1787
    So, while being funded by the Crown, Goya was making a statement about the lack of safety and security that people could find under the Charles’ rule. And this was put on display by Kings themselves. Goya was notorious for creating challenging works of art – like those detailed the Inquisition – while still being a Spanish court painter. What I am trying to say is that funding does not determine the social impact of a work; however, it is important to look at the legitimacy of the work itself.

    There is another article that talks about Arturo Di Modico, the bull’s creator, and how he believes that Fearless Girl should be taken down because it redirects the meaning of his sculpture. What is interesting about sculpture is that when it is put in an exhibition space the curator allows the piece to have a temporary conversation with other works of art. Works of art that it normally wouldn’t been seen around. This allows us to see the sculpture in different ways, deepening our understanding of it. The curatorial process is different, however, when put in a permanent, here public, installation. That conversation becomes static and seems, to Di Modica, to decide the ultimate ‘meaning’ of the work.

    In my view, the value and worth of sculpture is dependent, in large part, on its context. For example, would the bull sculpture be anything extraordinary if it was located on Travis Street in Houston rather than Wall Street? I don’t particularly think so. Further, would Fearless Girl be as extraordinary if it were located a few blocks away from the bull sculpture? Probably not. Both artists use context to provide deeper meaning to their work; e.g., both are using the same game to position the political and social message of their works. It’s just that Fearless Girl is the more recent iteration. I guess my point is that, if you don’t want your work to be seen and evaluated in the public, a world that changes architecturally, socially, and financially, perhaps public sculpture isn’t the best format for you as an artist. Isn’t what makes art enduring is its ability to shift in meaning and purpose. Isn’t this why we go to exhibitions? Shouldn’t this small block be seen as a slowly evolving exhibition space articulating market and social changes? Plainly, shouldn’t this guy be pleased that his sculpture is still relevant and not just a forgotten war hero slab?

    In conclusion to this lengthy comment, works of art have the possibility to change points of view – whether they are funded or not – and whether they are actually any good. This is positive – any way you look at it.

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