Wall Street outrage gets very public airing
An ice sculpture that literally depicts the melting economy. AP photo by Kathy Willens
By Jason Fink and Garett Sloane
If any New Yorker has missed the headline news of the last few months, there it was yesterday, staring them in the face in lower Manhattan: A 1,500-pound ice sculpture that spelled out the word economy melting in the sun.
Such public art displays, with their sharp take on the financial woes of the country and city, have become something of a trend near Wall Street this fall.
From the woman who distributed thousands of zero dollars - mock bills that had zeroes instead of ones on them - to the group Billionaires for Bailout, which last month invited people to literally toss their junk next to the bull sculpture in the Financial District, artists have taken recently to very public social commentary.
The symbolism kind of hits you over the head, said John Peterson, who lives in Manhattan and works on Wall Street.The Smithsonian Museum of American Finance, which opened on Broad Street in January, owns one of the zero dollars and has been documenting some of these displays since they started in mid-September, when banks were collapsing, stocks were crashing and a government bailout package awakened a mass backlash.
The museum is living and recording history and wont be able to retell the story until events settle, perhaps years from now, said Leena Akhtar, manager of exhibits and archives at the museum.
Part of it (the history being made) is how people respond here at the financial ground zero to whats going on, she said.
The recent protests aimed at Wall Street provide a contrast to what has happened in previous financial panics, where people actually descended on the stock exchange in throngs to sell their stocks and lined up outside banks to withdraw their money, Akhtar said.
However, today, in an age of YouTube and Facebook, when people are encouraged to transmit their thoughts about anything to virtually anyone at any time, such unabashed public participation in the social and political debates of the day seem inevitable.
People want to do something about it rather than let things happen to you, said Andrew Boyd, who led the junk dump at the bull statue and who was a founding member of Billionaires for Bush, the group that morphed into Billionaires for the Bailout.
Nora Ligorano, who created the economy ice sculpture, agreed, adding that not only was the display meant to mark the anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash, but the art is meant to engage people.
This is a work that is targeted for mass opinion and appeal, Ligorano said. We really want to reach out to everyone.
And taking the message to Wall Street seems like a no-brainer.
Thats where the story is, said Laura Gilbert, who printed the zero dollars. People were swarming down there.
Rob Jantz, 32, is one spectator who hopes to see more than wry commentary.
I like it, but until they really protest, until they take a radical stance on the economy, its lukewarm, it doesnt do anything, said Jantz, who works for the city sanitation department.