04/16/2017

‘Fearless Girl’ Is What Happens When Art Is Only About Politics

Sherri & Rob Tracinski, The Federalist

As a PR stunt—advertising disguised as an idealistic political message—a Wall Street investment firm hawking a “Gender Diversity Index” placed a statue of a young girl in front of the famous Wall Street statue of a charging bull. It was put there on International Women’s Day, and taken as a symbol of female “empowerment.” It just happens to coincide with what they were selling.

The problem is that the original sculpture, “Charging Bull,” was already someone else’s artistic statement. It was created by Italian artist Arturo Di Modica after the stock market crash of 1987 as a representation of his adopted country’s vitality and resilience. Di Modica placed it in front of the New York Stock Exchange in secret overnight, and it was received so well that it was eventually given a permit and a permanent location in the Financial District.

Now Di Modica is complaining because the “Fearless Girl” hijacked his work of art—for promotional purposes, no less—and is attempting to give it a new meaning. What was created as a symbol of vitality and prosperity is now recast as a symbol of rapacious capitalism and toxic masculinity, to be faced down by “girl power.”

This is what happens when art becomes just about politics.

In The Painted Word, Tom Wolfe memorably described how twentieth-century art became less and less about the painting itself, which is usually indistinguishable to the layman from every other smear of paint on a canvas—if I put you on the spot, could you tell one Jackson Pollock from another?—and came to be more about the theory behind the art. Wolfe joked that in the future, museums would splash on their walls the writings of the art critics and theorists, with the paintings reproduced on tiny little plaques as mere footnotes. This is why if you’ve read a highbrow art review in a newspaper or magazine any time in the last 50 years or so, you’ve probably found it deadly boring, because every work of art is a “commentary” on some esoteric issue only known to a select few in the insular little community of the art world but meaning nothing to anyone outside it.

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