It was a December night in 1989 when the Italian sculptor Arturo Di Modica, equipped with cranes and trucks, placed a 3.2-ton sculpture in front of the New York Stock Exchange. He had worked tirelessly and at his own expense for three years to create Charging Bull. The Sicilian artist, along with the complicity of some friends, took just four minutes to place the work, under the distracted gaze of the police in the Big Apple.
The sculpture was conceived in the wake of the 1987 Black Monday stock market crash. Having arrived penniless in the United States in 1970, Di Modica felt indebted to America for welcoming him and enabling his career as a successful sculptor. He wanted to encourage Americans to recover by relying on feelings such as determination, resilience, strength and courage, which the bull symbolized for him. It stands 11 feet tall and 16 feet long; the bull’s head is lowered, its nostrils flare, and its sharp horns are ready to gore.
The day after installation, hundreds of onlookers stopped to see Charging Bull as Di Modica handed out copies of a flier about his artwork. But later that day New York Stock Exchange officials called the police, who seized the sculpture and placed it into an impound lot. The ensuing public outcry led to its placement two blocks south of the Exchange, in Bowling Green, with a ceremony on December 21.
The sculpture became an instant tourist attraction. Along with the Statue of Liberty, it has become perhaps the most loved, recognized and photographed statues in New York. In addition to selfies taken at the front end of the bull, tourists from all over the world pose at the back of the bull near the symbols for virility. For good luck and good financial fortune, passers-by have rubbed to a bright gleam the bull’s nose, horns, and the part of the anatomy, to be delicate, that “separates the bull from the steer.”
In its 30 years, Charging Bull has undergone some hardships and transformations in its symbolism. It survived the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York and has survived some incidents of vandalism. In 2006, Di Modica (who owns artistic copyright) sued Wal-Mart for selling replicas of the bull to use in advertising campaigns; and in 2009 he sued Random House for using a photo of the bull on the cover of a book about the collapse of a financial services firm. In 2011 “Occupy Wall Street” protesters used the bull as a symbolic figure around which to direct their critiques of corporate greed. And in 2017 in anticipation of International Women’s Day, a bronze sculpture, Fearless Girl, was installed facing and challenging Charging Bull. It was commissioned to advertise an index fund that comprises companies that have a high percentage of women in senior management. According to Mayor de Blasio of New York, “she is a powerful symbol of the need for change in corporate America.”
Di Modica, who divides his time between New York and Vittoria near Ragusa in Sicily, did not foresee the evolution in the imagery of his bronze statue: “I placed it illegally one December night, I didn’t imagine it would become an icon of this city.” What would he do today? “Some have used my sculptures politically but I don’t do politics. For me the message is that of a better future, of being united, not just in America. In this historical moment, the sculpture that would come to mind, to dedicate to the United States, is that of a hug, something that recalls the idea of union, or two hands that unite. The message is to be united.”