and Fearless Girl at Street Level
For nearly three decades,
a bronze bull— about three times the size of a real
one— in nostril-flaring attack mode, testosterone personified,
has held its ground on a traffic island in the Wall Street
From day one, a steady stream
of people have come to see it, and it has long since become
one more iconic point of destination for tourists. Unsurprisingly,
the piece is entitled “Charging Bull.” I get it.
Wall Street. “Bull Market.” A symbol of financial
optimism. You wouldn’t want a bronze sculpture of a
bear down there, now would you.
Ever since its arrival, an odd ritual has
taken place. “If you build it they will come.”
And if you build it with large exposed testicles, they will
rub. Which people feel compelled to be photographed doing,
as if to say, aren’t I “ballsy”? Wait till
the folks back home see this. As if it’s something that
hasn’t now been done at least a couple of million times,
I would think. So much so, they have grown shiny with wear.
But to each his own. (And in the vein of the old Letterman
pet shtick, I’d love to see a bit on some late night
show: “Stupid Tourist Tricks.”).
This bull has captured the imagination of
a diverse mix of people. On the day I was there, there were
even some beaming Buddhist monks posing with it. You would
think those dedicated to a life of loftier spiritual goals,
would not be so taken with the false idols of this world.
But then again, they were not from Tibet, but from Delaware
of all places. Which might explain it in some small way.
And now something new has been added to the
Not long ago, a slim 4’ 2” bronze
girl appeared within some 20 feet of this behemoth. Hands
on hips, body thrust forward beyond the tips of her shoes,
this tiny, soft featured, nine-year old (patterned after a
model that age), is standing undaunted before the beast. Almost
suggestive of a David vs. Goliath confrontation. Not surprisingly,
she is entitled “Fearless Girl.” And a controversy
quickly ensued over this unexpected tableau.
The bull’s creator, Sicilian-born artist Arturo DiModeca,
now 76, was not at all pleased. And as of this writing he
is threatening litigation if the girl is not removed from
He claims that this interloping
upstart piece of art, alters the positive intent of his work,
and changes its meaning into something negative. Within his
stated protest, he goes on to define his bull as representing
“…freedom in the world, peace, strength, power
and love.” A bit overreaching, I’d say. Strength
and power, yes, that’s obvious. But freedom? Peace?
Love? B _ _ _ _ _ _ t!
Yet it does raise some interesting
issues about art in a public environment and what rights an
artist might have in protecting that work, in such a placement.
While DiModeca decries the
audacity of “Fearless Girl” infringing on his
space—assuming of course it is his space—
“Charging Bull” came on the scene, as a piece
of “guerilla art.” Meaning, it was never commissioned
by anyone, nor issued a permit. It was originally placed under
a Christmas tree on Broad Street (not far from where it now
stands), in the middle of the night on December 15, 1989.
Quite a feat to sneak a 7,100 pound sculpture onto a New York
City street unnoticed, even in the wee hours.
It was promptly removed in
the light of day.
Then championed at the time by Mayor Ed Koch,
it was given its permanent home near Bowling Green, the oldest
public park in NYC. And to this day DiModeca, still does not
have an official permit for his bull’s placement.
But beyond any bureaucratic issues regarding
the rights of an artist in a public space (a gray area a court
may ultimately have to decide), what DiModeca doesn’t
seem to want to acknowledge, is that despite the statement
he was trying to make with this piece 30 years ago, it is
not something immortal; it has not transcended time and the
changing zeitgeist here in 2017.
The high esteem in which Wall Street was once
held, has been significantly diminished, to put it kindly.
Not too many people are enamored with this bastion of unbridled
capitalism these days. Bernie Sanders claimed only “the
top 1%,” and it resonated. DiModeca may also have heard
of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement of 2011? And was
not Hillary vilified for giving speeches on Wall Street for
what many thought to be obscene fees? And that she might be
owned by Wall Street, which in bipartisan consensus, is not
a good thing to be beholden to? And that attention has now
turned more toward the economic woes of Main Street; not the
financial triumphs of Wall Street? One might make the case
that it is the bull that ought to be moved, not the girl.
But what to make of “Fearless Girl”?
She too has an interesting genesis. In short, a coming together
of cause and commerce.
The statue was installed this past March 7th,
the night before International Women’s Day. i.e. “Cause.”
But unlike the bull— this piece by a 45 year-old American
artist, Kristin Visbal, who was born in Uruguay— is
hardly guerilla art. It was commissioned by a financial services
company State Street Global Advisers (SSGA), i.e. “Commerce.”
And it was originally given a one-week permit from City Hall
to stand where she’s standing. Then in light of its
immediate public popularity, that permit was extended to a
At first, she had a plaque at her feet which
read, "Know the power of women in leadership. SHE
makes a difference." This generated much controversy
as "SHE" is not just a female pronoun, but an investment
product and NASDAQ ticker symbol as well. And therefore, it
was argued by many, to be a blatant ad disguised as a public
art work. The plaque was later removed.
The controversy continues on social media
and elsewhere. Particularly, as the permit has now been extended
until next February. As Mayor Koch once loved the bull, Mayor
Bill de Blasio loves this little girl. And if you’ve
ever been a parent of a little girl, you cannot help but love
her too. On a personal level, she has reminded me of a poem
I once wrote, “So Six,” that was inspired by dropping
my daughter off at school one day. Implicit in the lines,
is that even at such a young age, she was already coming into
her own. A couple of stanzas read:
A sprite with backpack
and lunch box, she walks.
Deliberately. Each step
|she is at once, so small,
big, so soon,
so sure, so six.
So yes, I might be a bit biased in this debate.
And following my visit to Evacuation Place, the official name
of that traffic island, I’ve concluded that both sculptures
are exquisite works of art and should stay put exactly as
they are. While I’ve passed the bull several times over
the years in going about my business, the presence of this
little girl now generates a dynamic that wasn’t there
Yes, she’s changed the originally intended
meaning behind DiModeca’s work. Yet in so doing, her
presence seems to have elevated both sculptures, judging by
the increasing crowds they are drawing in adoration (the only
way to describe it). Ultimately, isn’t that how art
in a public place should be considered: on-site, by real people,
expressing acceptance? Not just from a distant debate over
turf and political correctness, nor a critique over artistic
Someone once said regarding poetry, that the
question should not be, “What does it mean?” but
rather, “What does it feel?” And at street level,
this display feels uplifting.* Not once did I overhear any
discussions regarding the meaning of it all. People, as one,
were flat out enjoying themselves. And anything that can do
that, should be welcomed. Especially at a time when there
are more like twenty miles between us, rather than twenty
“Let it be,” as someone once intoned.
Quote of the Month
When I returned to my native
New York over six years ago, after a 31 year run in Los Angeles,
exceeding that of even The Phantom of the Opera (life takes
on some unexpected turns), what struck me was how much the
city had been transformed in my absence. For the most part,
for the better.
While I would get back here frequently enough
over that span—usually for short business trips or family
visits— I hadn’t noticed the dramatic upgrades
in the city from the perspective of a resident. Yet—and
a rather large “yet” at that—upon my now
permanent return to start a new life, I saw an eyesore that
wasn’t here “back in the day.” Scaffolds!
Everywhere you looked.
I came to learn that a new building code(s)
had been put into place, requiring that an inspection be done
every “x” number of years, to check for any structural
damage, most especially, that of loose bricks. Lest one fall
on some unlucky head, who had just bought a winning lottery
ticket. Add to that, the overkill of new constructions all
of which requiring extensive scaffolding, as real estate moguls
vie to “out-skyscrapper” each other (Edifice complex?).
No one seemed to notice or comment on these
scaffolds, but me. And though they were obviously necessary
for safety reasons what with men (and women) working overhead,
I saw them not only as unsightly, but taking up considerable
sidewalk space. Which in concert with zombie-like tourists
taking selfies, further impeded pedestrian traffic. Especially
in the midtown area where I had now lived. By the way, why
aren’t big cities across the U.S. and around the world
so “scaffolded”? No loose bricks falling in London
or Paris, aka The City of Lights? Guess not. Just terrorism.
Like everywhere else.
Anyway, it all has served as an inspiration
for a recent poem I wrote. One in which much poetic license
has been taken.
Block after block
as far as the eye of a prodigal son could see
the Grande Dames of buildings
The Plaza, The Dakota
on the very sidewalk where
Lennon once lay dying
scaffolds, scaffolds, scaffolds…
as if penalties for unknown breaches
of high or low crimes and misdemeanors
as might a boot on a car wheel of a scofflaw,
as might a cuff about the ankle
of some low-life under house arrest
or as might naked repression
by dictatorship governance
over civic dissension;
a suggestion of a breakdown in laws
written and unwritten
on communal order
and in the process blocking out the sun
though pilgrims from exurbia might see
as offering the shade of childhood elms
in a memory of one summer everlasting—
cover from a forecasted downpour upon
the balding heads of the native born
shunning the burden of five-buck umbrellas
or impeding pedestrian flow for the throngs
caught up in a midtown scurry—
an affront to esthetics
that only the effete might see;
a miner tunneled in from West Virginia
would not give such enclosures
a second glance…
or is it all the proverbial glass
seen as half empty;
a shattering of all that was once so clear
that was once held dear:
home is where the heart is
home is a state of mind
home as Frost said
is a place where they have to take you in
home, like Elvis,
has left the building
affixed to yet
Sidelines Yellow Crayon Called ‘Dandelion,’ Announces
New Color in the ‘Blue Family’”
This news, which appeared
in most major outlets on and off line, didn’t hit me
as hard as the retirement of Raw Umber now some 27 years ago.
Though in an attempt at acceptance, I colored one of my poems
with its passing. It concludes:
Why the mourning the
death of Raw Umber?
It is quite apparent
the world wants Fuchsia
and there will be no turning back.
The world apparently also
wanted Dandelion among six other new colors at the time. And
now it too has fallen out of favor. At just age 27, it has
been banished from the box of 24. Or is it just a ploy by
the powers that be to create a marketing buzz? And that Dandelion
is the sacrificial lamb?
Though give Binney & Smith— the
company that has been making Crayolas in some form or another
since 1885— some credit. When it removes a crayon from
circulation, it does so in a humane way. Often putting it
in its Hall of Fame as it will with this variation on yellow—the
deposed Dandelion. A waxed version of “getting kicked
upstairs” I suppose. It could be worse.
Imagine an Assad-like CEO running the company,
and having them all melted down! An act that would be so heinous
as to cause outrage across party lines.
I maintained in a piece several years ago
2010 MUSE-LETTER) that you could trace “The
American Experience Through a Box of Crayons.”
I was being facetious, but only to a degree. Here are some
edited considerations and the points I made (no pun intended),
to support my contention.
• In 1958, that first
mega box of 64 crayons— with a built-in sharpener!—
was introduced (its first appearance being on the Captain
Kangaroo Show). Suddenly, all things were possible.
Those school projects on white construction
paper, (with glued on cotton for clouds?) could rise to
heights heretofore unimagined.
Isn’t that the American way? Expansion!
Variety! Choice! Added value!
this cornucopia of hues, would prove in time to cause much
consternation. For as un-politically correct as you could
possibly imagine, the box contained a color called “Flesh.”
As in… Caucasian.
Though fairly soon after in 1962, partially
in response to new sensitivities brought about by the burgeoning
Civil Rights Movement, the company changed the name to “Peach.”
Ironically, it had never dawned on a company in the color
business, that flesh indeed comes in many colors.
• Even up
until the 90’s some controversy persisted, as “Indian
Red” was changed to “Chestnut.” Apparently,
school children were wrongly perceiving it to be the skin
color of Native Americans. I wonder where they got that
idea? (Washington Redskins anybody?).
Though in reality, the name of the color
was inspired by a pigment used in paint oils produced in
And speaking of Native Americans, note this
incredible portrait of Sitting Bull done entirely with Crayolas
by an artist named Don Marco, who also owned up in an interview,
to missing Raw Umber.
• Meanwhile, back at
the box, as if to overcompensate for any past perceived
racial insensitivities, and in a spasm of political correctness,
the company introduced a Multicultural pack that all but
shouted: “See, we get it.”
• A Yale University
study found that the smell of Crayola crayons is one of
the most recognizable scents for adults, ranking out cheese
and bleach which placed at 19 and 20.
I was heartened to learn of the valuable
contributions an Ivy League school was making towards the
betterment of America. No other country can make a crayon
whose scent can hold a candle to ours. And we’ve got
the numbers to prove it!
Has not the emphasis on R&D and data analysis
always been a hallmark of America? So why would delving into
the smell of a crayon be any different?
• Reflecting our newly developing culture of empowerment
and 15 minute fame cycles— personified by reality
shows, wherein any ordinary Joe (or Jane) has a say in who
stays or leaves the island or gets fired—Crayola marked
its 100th anniversary in 2003, by asking consumers to name
new colors. And conversely, to vote others out of the box.
Here’s how that went:
|Wild Blue Yonder
Inchworm? But as Shakespeare once said, “What’s
in a name? Would a crayon by any other name, and in any other
language, not be as green?”
• In keeping with today’s
business mantra of “Building the Brand” —
with all its attendant businessspeak— Crayola
is very much in step. According to its licensing management
“…extend the unique, vibrant,
and fun aspects of the brand into the home, personal care
and food categories.”
“24 manufacturers have been enlisted
to develop innovative licensed products leveraging Crayola’s
brand equity of color, creativity and imagination.”
Brand building has even long since entered
the political arena. As of this writing, the Trump administration
is considering how to brand his first 100 days in office.
who has not felt the joy, if even through the extended hand
of a beloved child, in taking a Crayola crayon
to a sheet of paper? And in so doing, as if to announce
to the world… “Look at me. I can touch the stars.”
For better or worse, we now as a nation, color
both inside and outside the lines with abandon.
Meanwhile, I wonder what this new crayon in the “blue
family” is going to look like. And what Ben & Jerry’s
type of concocted name will be selected among the many that
no doubt will be submitted. If a darker hue, I offer Blueberry
Hill. “Fats” chance though that that would ever
win. (I know. I can hear the groan from here.).
I have been invited to participate in a poetry reading at
the 22nd Annual Lower East Side Festival of the
Arts for the third time, this coming Memorial
Day. This event is sponsored by…
155 First Avenue
(bet. 9th and 10th Sts.) NY, NY 10003
May 28th: Sun. 4-7PM
I will be reading be reading “Scaffolds,”
which appears in this Muse-Letter among others TBD.