Would the “Fearless Girl” pack the same punch if she weren’t facing down Wall Street’s “Charging Bull?”
The bull’s sculptor, Arturo Di Modica, thinks not, and he has hired lawyers to help make his case. In a news conference Wednesday in New York City, the man who created the iconic bronze bull near the New York Stock Exchange said the statue of a young girl installed last month just a few feet away — staring boldly at his 7,100-pound beast — violates his artistic copyright.
“The girl herself as a particular piece of sculpture is fine,’’ Steven Hyman, a lawyer for Di Modica, said in a telephone interview. “But using it with the bull changes the bull.”
It’s an odd notion — an artist outraged by a creative act. Yet the addition of “Fearless Girl,” a much-praised statue installed by a company promoting a fund that supports gender diversity, has turned into a legal battle pitting a 76-year-old artist’s message, and ego, against public opinion and corporate interests.
Di Modica, an Italian who lives in New York and Sicily, created the bull after the 1987 stock market crash to show the “strength and power of the American people,” he has said. It was installed in the dead of night in 1989, in front of the stock exchange, and taken away that same day. It was later moved a few blocks away to a park, where it became an iconic piece, drawing tourists who flock to it for photos.
Last month, State Street Global Advisors, the $2.5 trillion investment arm of Boston’s State Street Corp., took a page out of his book. The company installed the bronze statue by Kristen Visbal of “Fearless Girl,” hands on hips, under cover of night. Her arrival on March 7 was part of State Street’s pressing companies to name more women directors, and to tout an investment fund that favors companies with diverse executive teams.
A day later, her image had gone viral on social media. The statue was supposed to be a temporary installation, but it will remain in place through February.
“They’ve taken the bull and made it into their particular piece of art, and they can’t do that without his permission,” Hyman said.
He sent letters Wednesday to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and to State Street and its New York advertising agency, urging removal of the statue and demanding financial damages.
The dueling statues have sparked passionate reactions, from hundreds of tweets defending “Fearless Girl” to a New York art journal’s calling the statue “fake corporate feminism” and “everything that’s wrong with our society.”
De Blasio, in a tweet on Wednesday, said, “Men who don’t like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.”
Nancy Schön, the West Newton artist who created the popular “Make Way for Ducklings” parade of ducks in Boston’s Public Garden, is a big fan of “Fearless Girl.” She said she can’t relate to Di Modica’s reaction.
“I’m sorry he feels that way,’’ she said. “This is one of the most exciting pieces of sculpture out there, making a statement about what’s happening today.”
Schön was referring to the political climate, and the anger that inspired women’s marches around the world after the US presidential election. She suggested Di Modica would have done better to welcome “Fearless Girl.”
Laura Baring-Gould, a Somerville artist whose public artworks include the giant “Clapp’s Favorite Pear” in Dorchester, said she can understand Di Modica’s frustration.
“You put your heart and soul into something, then you have to let it be in the public and see what happens,’’ she said.
A lot has happened since Di Modica felt the urge to shore up Wall Street’s confidence in the late 1980s. We’ve had the global financial crisis, followed by the Great Recession, and a divisive election. The statue of the girl facing the bull has clearly struck a chord, Baring-Gould said.
“The public is experiencing a frustration with the political environment and the power structure,’’ she said. “It’s exciting that the piece has unleashed that.”
There’s no question “Fearless Girl” has also been a public relations juggernaut for State Street Global. Twenty years after the firm was known for a macho culture in which a pink shoe was placed on the desks of men who wouldn’t go out drinking with the guys, the investment manager won headlines for urging companies to hire more women executives and board members.
Its parent company, State Street Corp., has 11 directors, three of them women. But that doesn’t impress Hyman, the lawyer for the sculptor who made the bull. He accuses State Street of using the sculpture “for commercial purposes.” Indeed, the plaque near the statue at first cited the company’s name and the SHE moniker for a State Street Global investment fund.
Both of those bits of promotional material have been removed, State Street spokeswoman Anne McNally said.
“It was a brilliant ad campaign. We give them credit for that and wish them godspeed,’’ Hyman said. “Just leave the bull out.”
State Street is reviewing the attorney’s letter, McNally said.
“We continue to be grateful to the City of New York and people around the world who have responded so enthusiastically to what the Fearless Girl represents,’’ she said in a statement, “the power and potential of having more women in leadership.”
Di Modica, for his part, is not entirely against commercial pursuits. He has sold other versions of his bull celebrating capitalism, which are located in Amsterdam and Shanghai. He also has sued companies for allegedly using his bull image, including Walmart Stores Inc. and the publisher Random House.
So far, he has not filed suit against State Street or New York City. Said Hyman, “The purpose of sending letters first is to see if we can work something out.”Beth Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.