wall street

Hey, That Bull Looks Familiar

The golden bull installed this week outside of São Paulo’s stock exchange building. Photo: Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images

No one asked Arturo Di Modica to install a three-and-a-half-ton bronze bull in front of the New York Stock Exchange. In the middle of the night on December 15, 1989, the Italian sculptor just went ahead and did it himself, hauling the thing to Wall Street on a truck and plopping it down on the cobblestones. He said he thought of Charging Bull as a gift to people who had lost everything after the market had crashed on Black Monday two years earlier. Instead, he himself lost his work, because it was immediately impounded by the city. Only after a little swell of public affection for the stunt was it returned to Wall Street, where it soon became a kind of mascot for the exchange. Does it represent the larger world of finance? Or capitalism itself? Whatever Di Modica’s intent, and however it’s been interpreted over the years, the association between a big bronze bull and making lots of money is strong — so much so that other stock exchanges have wanted cattle of their own. There’s a bull that looks a lot like Di Modica’s outside the Mumbai stock exchange in India, and an actual Di Modica was installed in Shanghai in 2016. And as of November 16, there’s a golden fiberglass bull in front of Brazil’s stock exchange in São Paulo, too.

That newest one is no guerrilla affair: It was installed by the exchange itself in partnership with the economist turned influencer Paul Spyer. (In Brazil, he’s famous for using the phrase “Vai tourinho” or “Go, little bull” in his stock market reports.) Touro de Ouro, (“Golden Bull”), as this version is known, was made not by Di Modica but by an artist named Rafael Brancatelli, and the stock exchange (which is called B3) says in a statement that it represents the “strength and resilience of the Brazilian people.”

None of this was run past Di Modica’s estate. (The artist passed away in February at the age of 80.) Jacob Harmer, his longtime dealer, has grown used to this kind of thing by now, although he doesn’t sound particularly delighted by it. “I don’t think it’s very original — they seem to have copied Arturo’s bull but with cheap materials, and I don’t think this design is very aesthetically pleasing,” he said. (Say what you will about the original as an artwork, but it does convey energy and muscularity and movement. The Brazilian one looks a little sleepy.) Copyright infringement, at least, doesn’t seem to enter into the discussion: The idea, rather than the piece itself, is what’s being knocked off here. “The problem I have with these recent stunts,” Harmer adds — referring to the Fearless Girl and Harambe statues that an asset manager and a social-networking start-up, respectively, have parked next to Di Modica’s bull — “is that people are doing it for self-promotion, and they try to do it quickly. It’s a cheap copy.” (Though even he would have to admit that, given the nature of the original stunt, Di Modica himself was a pretty shrewd self-promoter.)

It may be dodgy and derivative, but Touro de Ouro is being treated in São Paulo much the same way as Charging Bull is here. People have been lining up to take selfies with it, and to rub its testicles for luck. And, as happened in the famous Occupy Wall Street poster in which a ballerina was poised on the snorting creature’s back, the new bull has already been repurposed for political messages. Less than a week since it was installed, protesters stenciled Taxar os Ricos (“tax the rich”) on its side in black spray paint, and another group wheat-pasted a white sign reading Fome, or “hunger” in Portuguese, on the bull’s gold flank.

Hey, That Bull Looks Familiar