Arturo Di Modica, sculptor of the “ loaded bull ”, dies at 80

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Arturo Di Modica, a sculptor of Sicilian origin best known for “Charging Bull,” 3.5 tons of belligerent bronze that he illegally deposited in Lower Manhattan one night in 1989, died Friday at his home in Vittoria, in Italy. He was 80 years old.

His death was confirmed by his dealer, Jacob Harmer, who did not specify a cause but said Mr. Di Modica had been ill for several years.

‘Charging Bull’, which Mr. Di Modica had made with his own hands and his own money, quickly became one of the country’s most famous works of art and a photogenic draw for millions of tourists – many of them were probably unaware of its illicit origins.

Mr. Di Modica grew up in poverty in Sicily and he bore the love of an immigrant for his adopted home. With the country – or at least Wall Street – still reeling from “Black Monday,” the day in 1987 when the market fell 20% in one sitting, he wanted to give the country a gift of fitness, a who, he said. , symbolized “the future”.

What he didn’t have was permission to place his huge sculpture outside the New York Stock Exchange, its intended location.

Deciding that good intentions prevail over trivial matters like city permits, Mr. Di Modica spent weeks exploring Wall Street after midnight, taking note of how often the police passed by.

Then at around 1 a.m. on December 15, he loaded his sculpture onto a flatbed truck and drove to Broad Street, next to the Stock Exchange, where about 40 of his friends were waiting.

But there was a problem: since the last time he was there, the stock exchange had erected a huge Christmas tree, right where he wanted to deposit “Charging Bull”.

“Let go of the bull under the tree,” he cried. “It is my present.”

Stock exchange officials, however, did not appreciate his charity and that afternoon had the sculpture trucked to a Queens Police warehouse.

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Mr. Di Modica was distraught, but that evening he received an offer to move the sculpture to Bowling Green, a park at the foot of Broadway. He visited the warehouse and paid a $ 500 fine, and on December 20 the sculpture took up its new residence on a traffic island, where it remained for 33 years, perpetually ready to move through the Financial District. .

Arturo Ugo Di Modica was born in the Sicilian town of Vittoria on January 26, 1941. His father, Giuseppe, owned a grocery store; his mother, Angela, was a housewife.

In 1960, he left home against his parents’ wishes for Florence, where he took courses at the Academy of Fine Arts, did odd jobs and tried to establish himself as a sculptor. He was so poor that he couldn’t afford a foundry, or even buy metalworking tools – so he made his own.

He received critical acclaim after a 1968 exhibition of his work, at the time abstract and heavily influenced by Henry Moore. In 1970, he moved to Manhattan, where he set up a studio on Grand Street in the SoHo district, at the start of his phase as a bohemian artist. Mr. Di Modica fitted in perfectly, often making his monumental marbles and bronzes in the street outside.

His first big show in New York, in 1977 at Battery Park, was a disappointment; few people showed up and not a single reviewer attended. Angered, Mr. Di Modica hired three trucks, and he and a group of friends drove eight of his massive sculptures into the city of Rockefeller Center, where they dropped them off in the middle of the night.

He was ordered to pay a small fine – but said he soon sold all eight works.

Mr. Di Modica made a similar gesture on Valentine’s Day in 1985, when, in the light of day this time, he commissioned a semi-abstract sculpture of a horse, called “Il Cavallo”, to the back of his car, draped in a red blanket on which he had written “Be My Valentine NY Love AD”. He left it in Lincoln Center Square, surrounded by onlookers.

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Part of the reason Mr. Di Modica was less well-known than some of his contemporaries in the New York art world of the 1980s was because he was doing his best to stay out. Few of his friends were artists; he rarely attended parties and until 2012 he didn’t even have a dealership to represent him.

Nonetheless, by 1987 he had built up a list of wealthy customers and was making enough money to buy a Ferrari 328 GTS and dine frequently at Cipriani, the fast-food restaurant in downtown Manhattan.

“He couldn’t imagine when he ran away from home that he would live that way,” said Mr. Harmer, his merchant. “He felt indebted to America.”

And so, when the stock market plunged in November, plunging the country into panic, he felt he had to act. Spending two years and $ 325,000 of his own money, he designed “Charging Bull,” a work he later said evoked “the strength and determination” of the American people.

Mr. Di Modica put the sculpture up for sale in the 1990s, but turned down an offer that would involve moving it to a Las Vegas casino. He eventually sold it to British investor Joe Lewis on the condition that Mr. Lewis never move it from his Bowling Green location. The amount paid by Mr. Lewis was not made public, but the price initially requested by Mr. Di Modica was $ 5 million. (Mr. Lewis also purchased several other copies of the sculpture.)

In 2000, he married Stefania Oriana Drago, who survives him, with their daughter, Marianna, and a stepdaughter, Nadia. Information on the other survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Di Modica was extremely protective of his work. In 2006, he sued Walmart and several other companies for using “Charging Bull” images on their products.

Along with tourists, the work attracted more than its fair share of critical urban style responses. In 2008 and again in 2017, it was vandalized with paint, and in 2019 a man attacked it with what witnesses said looked like a makeshift metal banjo, leaving a six-inch gash in one of its horns. During the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, the police surrounded him with a high fence, lest activists attack him as a symbol of American capitalism.

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One night in 2017, artist Kristen Visbal, singing Mr. Di Modica’s original stunt, illegally laid down her own bronze statue standing in front of her sculpture – this one a bronze girl in a ponytail, standing in face of “Charging Bull” with his fists on his hips.

Ms. Visbal called her work “Fearless Girl,” and it was also an immediate tourist draw and a cultural icon. But Mr Di Modica was unhappy, saying Ms Visbal had changed the meaning of his work, making a hypermasculine counterpoint to the power of girls instead of the image of universal optimism he had wanted.

In 2018, “Fearless Girl” moved to the New York Stock Exchange, not far from where Mr. Di Modica left “Charging Bull” that night in 1989.

Beginning in the late 2000s, Mr. Di Modica spent more and more time in Vittoria, his hometown, where he had purchased 13 acres for a sculpture school. He poured money into the project, ultimately selling his SoHo studio to help fund it.

Despite an ongoing battle with intestinal cancer and other ailments, he also focused on another monumental sculpture, the largest to date: two 40-foot-tall rearing horses – the prototype, has t he says, for a 132-foot job that would one day straddle a river. near Vittoria.

He completed the prototype in 2019, working hard even as his health deteriorated. When he died, he was just starting the final version.

“I have to finish this thing,” he said to Mr. Harmer. “I will die working.”

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