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May 22, 2010

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Bund Bull's sculptor bullish on city

THE audacious sculptor of the new Bund Bull and the Charging Bull of Wall Street is famous for clandestine installations of mammoth works in public. He's planning the final drop-off of his life, but he won't tell Liang Yiwen where or when.

The iconic Bund has an iconic statue -- a powerful bronze bull that paws the ground amid neoclassical buildings that once headquartered Asia's most powerful banks.

Its audacious creator, Arturo Di Modica, is also the sculptor of New York City's Charging Bull of Wall Street.

The two 2.5-ton beasts are similar in weight and stature (around 5.2 meters long and 2.5 meters high), but Modica says Shanghai's bull is "redder (forged with reddish bronze), younger and stronger," all symbolizing Shanghai's and China's emerging power and potential.

The Bund Bull leans to the right while the Wall Street Bull veers and charges left. The Shanghai creature's tail curls upward and points to the sky, unlike the Wall Street beast's appendage that whips around.

"I wish that the Bund Bull will bring Chinese good luck," he said at the unveiling ceremony of the sculpture outside the Customs House on the Bund last Saturday.

"I hope that Shanghainese will like my gift to them," he said before taking off on a full week of VIP sightseeing in the city along with his wife and nine-year-old daughter.

Today Modica is a world celebrity, but the things were different when he delivered the surprise gift of the Wall Street Bull to New Yorkers in 1989.

The famous bull was the artist's idea, not the city's -- he had no permit for what would become a major tourist attraction. He never seeks permission for his famous dead-of-night drop-offs of enormous works.

He and some friends deposited the sculpture outside the New York Stock Exchange, facing Wall Street, on the night of December 14, 1989, as a Christmas gift to the people of New York. He declared it a symbol of the "strength and power of the American people" in responding to the stock market crash in 1987.

The next morning huge crowds came to admire the bull, many stopping to stroke it -- and its private parts -- for good investment luck. Modica handed out flyers about his work.

However, the sculpture was blocking traffic, so police impounded it as an unlicensed nuisance.

The ensuing public outcry led the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to install the beast at the foot of Broadway, two blocks south of the exchange.

"That is my style," Modica says. "I've been doing a lot of drop-off pieces in New York (for decades)."

Modica was born in Sicily, Italy, in 1941 to a small business family. When he was very young he studied sculpture in a private studio after school.

By the time he was a teenager, he was already drawn to the life of the artist and began to see sculpture as his calling.

In 1960, at the age of 19, Modica left Sicily and his family for Florence, drawn by its legendary art and his desire to be among Italy's finest sculptors and painters.

After only two years at Florence's famed Academia Del Nudo Libero, he quit and opened his own studio in the heart of Florence. He felt that further study would not advance his talent.

He immediately gained fame among other young sculptors and collectors because of his impressive work. For the next 12 years he was a presence in Florence, and, increasingly in Italy.

In 1973, Modica took his next great leap, moving to New York City because of its opportunities, work style and atmosphere. It took him a while to win acclaim in the city of so many talents from around the world, and he forged his personal style.

"It's very difficult for artists and sculptors to get the attention of the public and especially of the media," he says.

His first big success was a huge "drop-off" at Rockefeller Center in 1977.

He had planned a sculpture exhibit and invited a famous New York Times art critic, but the critic refused, saying he didn't do publicity.

"He hung up on me. Bang!" Modica recalls.

So in middle of the night at 1am, he deposited seven abstract pieces totaling 60 tons in front of midtown's Rockefeller Center.

Just as in the later Wall Street Bull case, "I was the front page the next morning all over the world," he recalls with pride.

"My work has always been deposited by me in a public place without any permission," he says. "Because if you get permission, nobody writes about, nobody does anything.

"Reporters want to write about something exciting and everybody reads those articles. I learned that."

Modica has carried out six clandestine drop-offs over the past 30 years, each time dumping heavy works in a just a few minutes to avoid the police.

He does it to call attention to a forthcoming show, to express affection for the people of New York, or to mark special occasions, such as Valentine's Day.

"I was lucky that I have never been arrested, but maybe it could happen next time," says the 69-year-old sculptor.

"I'm preparing for the last drop-off of my life, but I won't tell you where or when."


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