A little girl should not be standing in the path of a bull.
Now, I understand representational art fell out of fashion in the middle of the last century, but the idea is pretty simple: the artwork is supposed to look like something in the world. Kristen Visbal — the sculptor responsible for “Fearless Girl,” the statue plopped down last month in front of the famous Wall Street bull as part of a corporate ad campaign — once had a firm grasp on the concept. She was best known for an irony-free series of sculptures of football coaches clearly engaged in the coaching of football. Totally nailed it. However, “Fearless Girl,” a child in a tunic staring down a bull, looks like nothing I have ever seen. And unless the bull-vaulters in 15th century B.C. Crete had a girls division, I reckon nobody else ever has either. Little girls simply do not seek to impede stampeding bulls, because that is a very, very, very bad idea.
It’s also bad art, preachy and so freighted with an overt message that it’s lost any connection to the real world. It’s not an artwork so much as a tiny system of abstract symbols — perhaps a 3D pictograph. This is why “Fearless Girl” lands with all the emotional impact of a linguist’s diacritical marks. Well, that’s not entirely fair. It does resonate at one frequency, in recalling the man who stood down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square. But here, we are apparently supposed to celebrate a girl for her cheeky attitude in the moment before she is trampled. This is nonsense on its own terms. By comparison, that much maligned work, “Ode to a Transformation: Kendall Jenner Juxtaposed With Cop/Pepsi,” is a masterpiece of coherence and integrity. After all, Pepsi saved the day, and the cops didn’t kill the girl. Yet, as Scott McKay noted in these pages, many famous women not known for their misogyny have praised the statue. Ideology wraps the world in gauze so that even a trampling is seen as an abstract form.
The artwork that “Fearless Girl” exploits is actual street art, perhaps the “only significant work of guerrilla capitalist art in existence,” as one writer noted. Arturo DiModica, a Sicilian immigrant, responded to the market crash of 1987 with a work meant to express the strength and vitality of the American people. He spent some $350,000 sculpting the 7,000-pound bull, before dropping it off in front of the New York Stock Exchange, with no permit. The bull was hauled off but brought back to Bowling Green Park due to popular acclaim. “Fearless Girl” was installed overnight in secret as a sort of homage to the bull, but it’s the opposite of street art. The work, which was officially approved by the city, was commissioned by an investment fund hoping to create a certain socially conscious image.
The statue did remind me of the time I ended up in Quisapincha, Ecuador, during festivals of the city and got a look at something called Toros del Pueblo. The idea is to take a “Hold my beer, watch this” stunt and turn it into a citywide festival. They jury-rig an arena out of rough-hewn lumber and surround it with makeshift bleachers and then let a bull loose inside. Instead of a matador, you get a few dozen of the town’s drunkest men in the ring. The ambulances line up outside. The men antagonize the bull and try to dodge it. Most succeed, but a few catch a horn through the thigh or the gut. The air fills with dust. As the bull tires, men throw objects at it. Others, having loaded up on liquid courage, drain their bladders in plain sight. The spectacle is vulgar and fascinating, but if you introduced a 9-year-old girl to the arena floor, it would be something altogether different. You might have something to rival Dostoevsky’s little girl crying and praying in the outhouse.
But what do we have in Bowling Green Plaza? A girl with hands defiantly on hips, an at-a-glance representative of “girl power.” So of course the object apposite must be the patriarchy, as played by whatever we’ve got near at hand. Is it a shoe, a fast-food wrapper, a lamppost? How about that bull? Virility, aggression — get it? But it doesn’t really matter. The essence of the piece is a girl defiant; the rest is marketing. The statue is not art so much as it is an illustration of the issues explored in transcendental phenomenology. Wait, come back…
If I can rip off Kant and Husserl for a second, which is doubtful, the mind has a remarkable capacity to take a world of appearances and categorize them, often instantly and often wrongly, as these appearances may not represent reality at all. This means that what we think isn’t all that based in reality. We think in symbols and shorthand and miss the real thing right in front of us. How many noxious lies do we accept, because they are presented in the form of something we favor?
Millions believe there is an unseen and unspoken patriarchal conspiracy underlying a world of appearances, along with systems of racial dominance and exploitation, but the whole business might be nothing more than the prattling of academics. Once you create this category in your mind, you file away all sorts of bits and pieces as evidence that the system exists. And anything that’s vaguely “up with girls” is celebrated, even when it is the depiction of a child’s imminent death.
Conservatives are less susceptible to this sort of error. For one thing, our sentiments about treading on people are spelled out right there on a flag. But also, we tend to stick closer to home and what we know, while the left is forever trying to squeeze the world into one grand scheme or another.
I think McKay is correct that the left means to continue denying reality, here and elsewhere, until its new reality arrives. I hope it does, as unreality is fatal to art, while art is more convincing than argument, and our art is controlled by the left.
Consider how easy it would be to fix this bit of street art. We just add another piece. Call it, “Dad Rushing to Save his Daughter from Runaway Bull.”