Increasing the appeal of CBDs through Public Art

Increasing the appeal of CBDs through Public Art
June 25, 2019
Charging Bull, NY Stock Exchange

Charging Bull, NY Stock Exchange

'I am because we are' by Ricky Lee Gordon, Johanesburg

'I am because we are' by Ricky Lee Gordon, Johanesburg

Hehe XieXie, Shanghai World Expo

Hehe XieXie, Shanghai World Expo

Public art has played an important role as aesthetic signifier to the CBD. The most famous work of art found in a central business district (CBD) is undoubtedly Wall Street’s “Charging Bull”.

The artist, Arturo Di Modica, conceived of it as a rallying cry of tenacity in response to 1987’s Black Monday stock market crash. “Charging Bull” was his 3,200 kg gift to the country that nurtured him from penniless immigrant to successful artist, and serves as inspiration to carrying on fighting through hard times for a brighter future.

Recalling a so-called “bull market”, when the economy is strongly optimistic, the imposing 3.4-metre-tall, 4.9-metre-long bull leans back on its haunches, with its head, sporting sharp horns, lowered and ready to charge.

Unlike most public art, the bronze bull was not commissioned by any official institution. Instead, it was illegally placed in front of the New York Stock Exchange in 1989.

The sculpture was impounded on the same day, but after a public outcry, it was moved to Bowling Green, where it remains.

The bull of Wall Street is now one of the most iconic images of New York City and its famous financial district, drawing thousands of tourists from around the world.


Incorporating art in a serious way

In 2010, a similar sculpture by Di Modica was commissioned and installed in Shanghai, nicknamed the “Bund Bull”.

Across the river from the Bund, in Shanghai’s new commercial centre in Pudong, a more systematic incorporation of art has proven very successful. 

The anchor institution is the Shanghai Art Museum, responsible for the China Pavilion of the World Expo 2010. Smaller institutions, like the Aurora Museum of antiquities, complemented by various cultural events, have also sprung up, consistently supporting the vision for a creative city within the financial district.  

The Shanghai Stock Exchange has its own bull sculpture, this time ornately carved out of dark green stone, showcasing a more timeless feel.

Meanwhile, the giant panda sculptures known as “Hehe Xiexie” on Expo Boulevard employs a more contemporary style of mirror-finished stainless steel. Originally created by artist Zhang Huan for the World Expo 2010, the cuddly pair represent harmony.


A tool for harmony

The power of art in a CBD can even bring peace alongside prosperity. Johannesburg is Africa’s financial powerhouse, but its CBD had a reputation for urban decay and high crime rates.

However, over the last decade there  have been a concerted effort to revitalise the district through art, resulting in a vibrant creative playground with the urban fabric as canvas.

The New York Times described the virtuous cycle: “Color and beauty draw people; people promote security, which draws more people, and creates a bigger audience possibility for more art. The improvements have made Joburg cool again — and popular.”

Both Braamfontein, the traditional commercial centre, and Maboneng precinct, now the country’s hippest enclave after its arts-focused rejuvenation, are home to striking examples of public art.

Braamfontein’s most iconic are “Juta Street Trees”, nine large metal tree sculptures, and “Eland,” a concrete rendering of the continent’s largest antelope, native to South Africa.

Maboneng has upwards of 30 murals, including Ricky Lee Gordon’s 10-story “i am because we are” drawn from the Nelson Mandela “Shadow Boxer” photograph.

The main thoroughfare along the canal features artist Kim Lieberman’s “Human Intersection” made up of lacey, life-sized steel cut-outs of people who have made important contributions to the precinct.

Other sculptures utilise Afrocentric designs to give Maboneng a distinctive sense of place, so prized in local communities and architectural circles alike.

Photo Credit: Bob Gosani © BAHA foundation | Zhang HuanAndreas Horstmann