The current Village Voice is running an article entitled “Fearless Girl is Not Your Friend”. It won’t be the last word on the issue, mainly because there can never be a last word on the broader questions of artistic intent and integrity that are the main subjects of the piece.
Questions of intent and integrity have been raised about Fearless Girl since the girl’s appearance in March. Mostly these have had to do with the cojoining of the sculpture with Arturo Di Modica’s 1989 charging bull in the Wall Street plaza where they both reside. Does Fearless Girl intrude upon the sculpture of the bull in a way that damages the integrity of the earlier piece? Seems like a credible objection to me. I suspect some, including fans of Fearless Girl, might raise an eyebrow if the Louvre hung a piece next to the Mona Lisa that included an arrow pointed at Mona and the phrase “I’m with stupid”.
But this is not the Voice’s line of attack. Artistic integrity may be important, especially in the nicer parts of the world where the debate has traction, but it is not always as important.
And so the Voice dismisses Di Modica’s anger over the placement. To the Voice Di Modica is
driven to distraction by this recontextualization of his statue, spitting out a steady fusillade of angry press releases and threatening to sue State Street for what he considers a profound alteration of his work . . . The spectacle of an old man raging against an upstart girl for adulterating his celebration of capitalism has only helped cement the perception that the girl and the bull are in conflict.
So the Voice sees no problem here, apparently.
Of course the problem for the Voice is another matter relating to intent and integrity: the fact that Fearless Girl was conceived in an advertising agency for a corporate client, the “worldwide financial colossus” State Street Global Advisors.
So we can forget the problem of poaching on Di Modica’s art. We can forget, too, the Rorschach-inflected discussion of the intent. In terms of the piece itself, is it a challenge to the bull or something else? And in political terms is it a rebuke to Wall Street? A rebuke to the male energies of Wall Street? A statement about the benefits of taming male energies with female sensibilities? An argument that women can be valued as members of the tough and nasty old boy’s network, if only they could be let in?
The Voice argues to set these and other arguments aside.
Let’s leave aside State Street’s own recurring trouble with the law . . .
Let’s leave aside as well the question, itself the subject of much debate, of whether or not the best application of feminist energy is the Lean-In project of helping already wealthy women ascend the final rung of the ladder to sit on the boards of multinationals . . .
Let’s table, too, the fact that State Street’s commitment to its stated corporate-feminist goal is transparently thin . . .
What matters is that State Street inhabits some “dark and destructive” places. Its investment activities operate in the “grand Wall Street tradition is chasing profits wherever they may be found, a pursuit outside of moral distinctions.” It is “deeply committed to an industry whose entire business model is taking as much carbon as possible out of the ground and putting it into the atmosphere.” By owning shares in companies in the defense industry it makes money from “the tools of war.” And through its shares in tobacco it “it makes money from an addictive drug that kills nearly half a million people a year in this country alone.”
It is not so surprising in this political age that the Voice would opt to judge the work through a completely politicized lens. I do find it interesting though that identity politics, which has trumped economic arguments on the Left for some time, is downplayed here in favor of a more old fashioned leftism. I may not agree with all of the article’s political views, and I think its approach to interpretation is pretty reductionist. But you could do worse than shrug at identity politics. Maybe that’s progress of a sort.