Fearless Girl & Charging Bull

Fearless Girl represents a young woman who’s not afraid to stare down a big powerful animal—in this case the Charging Bull statue of Wall Street.

Fearless GirlThat bull, of course, represents capitalism, big business, and perhaps greed.

Charging BullBut wait a minute. That wasn’t what it represented originally!

Charging Bull was originally a piece of guerilla art, created by Arturo Di Modica in Brooklyn and deposited, under cover of darkness, just before Christmas in 1989, as a gift to New Yorkers.

In the wake of the Crash of 1987, Di Modica designed the bull to symbolize the “strength and power of the American people,” and spent some $360,000 of his own money to create and cast the sculpture.

In just a few decades, however, the bull’s image has changed. It doesn’t represent the people; it represents the powerful corporations of Wall Street. And to people who view Wall Street as a place that rewards the rich and powerful, Charging Bull is something to stand up against.

As to that Fearless Girl, she was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, an institution with more than $2 trillion under management, as an advertisement for an index fund composed of companies that have a high percentage of women among their senior leadership.

Thus, the girl is the product of the marketing department of a powerful corporation while the bull is the product of one individual (and brave) artist!

But that’s not how they’re seen at all!

And Charging Bull is not the only statue in New York that is perceived differently than its creator intended.

Consider the most famous statue of all in the city, the Statue of Liberty.

Statue of LibertyAs a gift from the nation of France to the United States on the occasion of the preservation of our union following the Civil War, the statue stood foremost for liberty, independence and democracy.

But today, thanks above all to a poem written by Emma Lazarus, many people believe her primary message is a welcome for immigrants!

But Emma Lazarus’ poem played no role at the opening of the statue in 1886. Her poem was commissioned by the committee as part of a find-raising campaign to build a pedestal for the statue, and it wasn’t until after her death that a friend succeeded, in 1901, in getting a bronze plaque of the poem installed inside the pedestal.

Here’s the entire poem:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Bottom line: I wish Fearless Girl well in the future, whether she stays where she is or travels (as suggested) to places where she is needed. But it will be interesting to see if her original message is changed by time, just as those of Charging Bull and the Statue of Liberty have been.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Robert Mapplethorpe

A recent visit to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux Arts) included a visit to two shows featuring the above artists—shows that were not designed to relate to each other, but that in my mind did.

On the surface, the artists are quite different.

Toulouse-Lautrec was a post-impressionist whose biggest sale was “La Blanchisseuse” (The Laundress), which went for $22 million in 2005.

La BlanchisseuseMapplethorpe was a photographer whose greatest sale was a portrait of Andy Warhol, which went for $643,000 in 2006.

Andy WarholToulouse-Lautrec worked in Paris while Mapplethorpe worked in New York.

Toulouse-Lautrec died 45 years before Mapplethorpe was born.

But what struck me after seeing the two shows were the similarities between the two men.

Both lived on the periphery of society.

Toulouse-Lautrec was dwarfish, as a result of breaking two legs in accidents when he was 13 and 14—also, his parents were first cousins, which seldom helps.

Mapplethorpe was homosexual.

Toulouse-Lautrec found comfort among the performers and prostitutes of bohemian Montmartre.

Mapplethorpe found comfort in the homosexual subculture of the art world of New York.

Both documented the world around them.

Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized the singers and dancers of Le Moulin Rouge with his quick pastel drawings and his advertising lithographs.

Mapplethorpe immortalized friends, celebrities and sexual adventurers with photographs that ranged from formal to erotic.

Laid low by alcoholism and syphilis, Toulouse-Lautrec was committed to an asylum and died in his mother’s house at the age of 36 in 1901.

Mapplethorpe died in 1989 at the age of 42 due to complications from HIV/AIDS.

Despite having died young, both left behind large bodies of work, which we can enjoy (or at least view), today.

The exhibit “Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque” will be at The Phillips Collection in Washington DC from February 4 until April 30, 2017.

The Mapplethorpe exhibit, “Focus: Perfection” will be in Montreal until January 22, 2017.

But now I get to the hard part. Having described the basic differences and, more important, the similarities in the artists’ circumstances, what does it mean? Where is the value?

Is it enough to say that these men, unable to adapt to normal society, became flaming candles that illuminated their dark worlds and were prematurely extinguished?

If each had been born a bit later, he would found a society more accepting of his differences.

But then might we have been denied the art that was born out of those circumstances?

I don’t have any answers, but I do think it will be interesting to see what the art market is saying about Mapplethorpe’s photographs a century after his death.

American Visionary Art Museum

If you’re in Baltimore, and want to have a good time, I highly recommend a visit to the American Visionary Art Museum, located at the south side of the inner harbor, across the street from the Ritz-Carlton Residences.

It’s not a natural pairing. Ritz-Carlton is traditional while the American Visionary Art Museum is anything but. Here you’ll find “outsider art” from people who have a lot of vision, and least some talent, and no training.

Overall, it’s a blast.

On a recent visit, my favorites included an 18-foot model of the Lusitania made of toothpicks and fractured right in the middle—supposedly as it looked prior to sinking… A toothpick model of the Lusitania…the King’s Mouth, an interactive audio-visual installation by Flaming Lips lead singer Wayne Coyne…

King's Mouth… a faux early copy of “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, in which it appears that the original first line was, “I’m dreaming of a white poodle”…

I'm dreaming of a white poodle…and this tableau of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which reminds us that those two famous characters on Sesame Street were named for the supporting actors in the movie!

A wonderful lifeThere’s much more at the American Visionary Art Museum, all guaranteed to make you smile. The only negative is the price tag; because it’s a young museum with a small endowment, the adult entry price is $15. I think it’s worth it!

The Museum of Russian Icons

The Museum of Russian Icons, located in Clinton, Massachusetts, is worth a visit, especially if you like this kind of art.

saint john of climacusI certainly do.

This wooden panel—notice how it’s curved over the centuries—was painted around 1750, and depicts the teachings of Saint John of Climacus (of the ladder).

Saint John was born in 579, became a hermit, and at the age of 16 moved into a monastery on the Sinai Peninsula of what is now Egypt.

Eventually, he put his wisdom in a book, which he titled, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.”

Designed as a guide to living the proper religious life, the book has 30 chapters, each dealing with a particular vice or virtue. Master them all and you get to Heaven, in essence climbing the metaphorical ladder from earth to the better world.

Here they are, from lowest rung to highest.

1. Forsaking the World
2. Detachment
3. About being a foreigner
4. Obedience
5. Repentance
6. Remembrance of death
7. About weeping
8. Angerlessness
9. Remembrance of wrong
10. Slander
11. Talkativeness
12. Lies
13. Despair
14. Gluttony
15. Purity
16. Greed, love of money
17. Not possessing things
18. Insensitivity
19. Indolence, sleep
20. Prayer
21. Keeping vigil
22. Fear
23. Meekness
24. Faith
25. Humility
26. Judging others
27. Silence
28. Mercifulness
29. Passions
30. Love

But what happens if you fail to master a rung on the ladder?

Down you go, like the unfortunate souls on the left side of the picture.

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The Museum of Russian Icons has more than 100 icons, organized by theme. Most, like the one above, are of egg tempera, which maintains its bright colors over the centuries.

They were collected by a local businessman, Gordon B. Lankton, who in 2006 opened his collection to the public in this purpose-made museum, located in old industrial buildings in the otherwise unremarkable town of Clinton.

On the Friday my wife and I were there, the museum had only a handful of other visitors, so we were able to view the collection slowly and carefully, enjoying all the details of these inspiring artworks. It’s worth a visit!

The Museum of Russian Icons