Sicilian sculptor Arturo Di Modica died on February 19 in his hometown of Vittoria, Italy, at the age of eighty, following a years-long battle with cancer, his dealer Jacob Harmer confirmed. Di Modica, who operated outside the confines of the traditional art world for most of his career, is most widely known for his massive bronze 1989 sculpture Charging Bull, which has greeted passersby in New York’s Bowling Green for more than thirty years.
Born into poverty just ahead of the Allied forces’ invasion of Italy, Di Modica left home on a steam train at the age of eighteen to pursue his dream 0of being a sculptor against the wishes of his father, a grocer. Arriving in Florence, he attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze, working menial jobs to pay his way. Unable to afford use of the local foundries, he built his own forging and metalworking tools and began making rough, abstract bronze castings. By the late 1960s, he had begun working with Carrara marble and had met English sculptor Henry Moore, who nicknamed him the “young Michelangelo.” Moore’s own style greatly influenced that of Di Modica, who in 1970 moved to New York.
Working in SoHo for many years, Di Modica developed a habit of placing his art in public spaces in the dead of night. The practice grew out of his failure to obtain the notice of critics at one 1977 show, which led him to truck eight of his monumental marble works up to Rockefeller Center, where they blocked Fifth Avenue and earned him the attention of the police and the mayor, as well as the front page of the New York Post.
Di Modica would employ this tactic again, most notably when, in December 1989, he dropped off his iconic Charging Bull under the Christmas tree that stood in front of the New York Stock Exchange. The work, which the artist intended as a symbol of universal optimism and as a gift to the city inspired by the events of 1987’s Black Monday stock market crash, was hastily removed by officials but restored to its current location shortly thereafter in the wake of public outcry. In recent years, much to Di Modica’s dismay, the sculpture garnered negative attention from protesters, who took the bull to embody American capitalism and financial power. In 2017 Kristen Visbal placed her Fearless Girl, a bronze sculpture of a defiant young girl before it. Di Modica claimed that the work, commissioned by asset management behemoth State Street Global Advisors, illegally commercialized and wrongly reframed his work; Visbal’s sculpture was subsequently moved to the NYSE, where the bull originally stood.
Di Modica had recently moved back to Vittoria, where he was working to establish a sculpture school. At his death, he was in the midst of designing a 132-foot work featuring two sparring horses that was to span a river near his hometown.