Charging Bull

occupy wall street by Sassan Filsoof

Charging Bull, which is sometimes referred to as the ‘Wall Street Bull’ or the ‘Bowling Green Bull’ is a bronze sculpture, that stands in Bowling Green Park in the Financial District in Manhattan. Originally guerilla art, by Arturo Di Modica, its popularity led to it being a permanent feature.

The 7,100 lb sculpture stands 11 feet tall and measures 16 feet long. The bull’s testicles are 10 inches in diameter, weighing 107 pounds each. The oversize sculpture depicts a bull, the symbol of aggressive financial optimism and prosperity, leaning back on its haunches and with its head lowered as if ready to charge. The sculpture is both a popular tourist destination which draws thousands of people a day, as well as ‘one of the most iconic images of New York’ and a ‘Wall Street icon’ symbolizing Wall Street and the Financial District.

Durante describes the sculpture: ‘The Bull’s head is lowered, its nostrils flare, and its wickedly long, sharp horns are ready to gore; it’s an angry, dangerous beast. The muscular body twists to one side, and the tail is curved like a lash: the Bull is also energetic and in motion.’ The bronze color and hard, metallic texture of the sculpture’s surface emphasizes the brute force of the creature. The work was designed and placed so that viewers could walk around it, which also suggests the creature’s own movement is unrestricted — a point reinforced by the twisting posture of the bull’s body, according to Durante.

In 2010, a similar ‘Charging Bull’ sculpted by Di Modica, which looks ‘younger’ and ‘stronger,’ was installed in Shanghai, called ‘Bund Bull.’ In 2012 one was placed on Het Beursplein in Amsterdam.

Di Modica spent some $360,000 to create, cast, and install the original sculpture following the 1987 stock market crash as a symbol of the ‘strength and power of the American people.’ The sculpture was the artist’s idea, not the city’s. In an act of ‘guerrilla art,’ he trucked it to Lower Manhattan and on December 15, 1989, installed it beneath a 60-foot Christmas tree in the middle of Broad Street in front of the New York Stock Exchange as a Christmas gift to the people of New York. That day, crowds came to look at the bull, with hundreds stopping to admire and analyze the gift as Di Modica handed out copies of a flier about his artwork.

In 2004, Di Modica announced that the bull sculpture was for sale, on condition the buyer does not move it from its present location. Di Modica continues to own the copyright to the statue. In 2006, Di Modica sued Wal-Mart and other companies for illegally benefiting from his copyright, by selling replicas of the bull and using it in advertising campaigns. In 2009, he sued Random House for using a photo of the bull on the cover of a book discussing the collapse of financial services firm Lehman Brothers.

Since New York City does not own the sculpture, it has a technically temporary permit allowing it to stand on city property, but the temporary permission has lasted since 1989, when city officials said the new location would not be permanent. Art on loan is usually limited to a year’s display. Although the city does not buy art, it accepts donations. A writer in the ‘New York Daily News’ wrote in 1998 that the statue’s placement was ‘beginning to look a mite permanent.’

As soon as the sculpture was set up at Bowling Green, it became ‘an instant hit.’ The statue’s popularity with tourists has a very international appeal. One 2007 newspaper report noted a ‘ceaseless stream’ of visitors from India, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Venezuela and China, as well as the United States. Children enjoy climbing on the bull, which sits at street level on the cobblestones at the far northern tip of the small park.

In addition to having their pictures taken at the front end of the bull, many tourists pose at the back of the bull, near the large testicles ‘for snapshots under an unmistakable symbol of its virility.’ According to a ‘Washington Post’ article in 2002, ‘People on The Street say you’ve got to rub the nose, horns and testicles of the bull for good luck, tour guide Wayne McLeod would tell the group on the Baltimore bus, who would giddily oblige.’ According to a 2004 ‘New York Times’ article, ‘Passers-by have rubbed — to a bright gleam — its nose, horns and a part of its anatomy that, as Mr. Benepe put it gingerly, ‘separates the bull from the steer.”

A 2007 newspaper account agreed that a ‘peculiar ritual’ of handling the ‘shining orbs’ of the statue’s scrotum seems to have developed into a tradition. One visitor, from Mississippi, told the ‘Tribeca Trib’ she did it ‘for good luck,’ and because ‘there’s a kind of primal response when you see something like that. You just have to engage it.’ The enthusiastic reaction to the sculpture continues into the darker hours. ‘I’ve seen people do some crazy things to that bull,’ said a souvenir vendor, ‘At night sometimes, when people have been drinking, I’ve seen them do stuff to that bull that you couldn’t print in a newspaper.’

A dancer posed in arabesque atop the sculpture in a now famous 2011 ‘Adbusters’ appeal to ‘Occupy Wall Street.’ Following the protests at nearby Zuccotti Park, the sculpture was placed under police guard and was generally off-limits to tourists for almost three years, but is now again openly accessible.


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