“Guerrilla art” can make its point very effectively. After a – now forgotten – stock market crash in 1987, sculptor Arturo di Modica, made a 7,000 lb bronze bull at his own expense and installed it, without permission, in front of the New York Stock Exchange, as a reminder of the “strength and power of the American people”.
In the early hours of Christmas day, street artist Olek covered the bull with a charming all-over sweater as a gesture of her own warmest wishes for the New Year.
Alas, bureaucrats have got worse since di Modica’s original installation. Almost immediately, a park keeper cut Olek’s lovely bull cosy to pieces with scissors and dumped it.
The irony is that the bureaucrat’s nastiness provides the perfect third act to a work of street performance art that symbolises where we are with uncanny accuracy.
Di Modica’s bull has indeed come to symbolise the resilience of the American people in particular and the global markets in general. Just as the statue is still with us, so are the strengths it represents. Yet Olek’s woolly covering reminds us that, however strong it appears, the bull needs to be loved and looked after. The bureaucrat’s destruction of that covering is itself symbolic of the unhelpful attitudes of officialdom – which never wanted the bull in the first place and does not care if it is left out in the cold.
This is exactly where we stand on the threshold of 2011. Free enterprise has proved its resilience yet again, but recovery remains fragile, and government needs to be more sympathetic.
Yet the New Year finds us finds us cautiously optimistic. There is a now a more realistic attitude in business and political circles. Gone is the hysterical optimism that preceded the 2008 crash and the equally hysterical pessimism that followed it.
Even politicians seem to be growing up. President Obama’s deal with the Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts gives hope that a bipartisan approach to America’s problems may be possible. The British government is taking mathematics seriously at last. The Germans are imposing discipline on the euro. Several potential crises – in Dubai, Greece, and Ireland – passed without panic. These are all encouraging signs.
The next year will be tough for many, but most will see slow improvement. That said, any predictions must end with the one that is always proved right: expect the unexpected.