Born 1941, in the small Sicilian town of Vittoria, Arturo Di Modica grew up surrounded by the remains of the Greek and Roman civilizations. Often helping his father with work in Ortigia, Siracusa, he would be overlooked by the stunning 5 th century BC Duomo di Siracusa and its sculptural masterpieces – a construction which upon seeing, is even difficult to just comprehend that this is a creation conceived by the human mind. The home of another great Italian artists work can be found here, Caravaggio’s Seppellimento di Santa Lucia, painted in 1608. As a young boy surrounded by such a rich history, it is no surprise Di Modica was dreaming big and quickly became fixed upon a life as an artist.
With little opportunity in Vittoria, by the age of 18 Di Modica made the decision to leave and set out on a steam train destined for Florence, home of the Renaissance greats. Upon arrival, life was very difficult as he struggled to establish himself in his new City, having to take odd and bizarre jobs just to survive. After some time, he was able to enroll in Florence’s Accademia De Nudo Libero, however soon decided he wanted to do things his own way, a mindset he maintained more-or-less through out all of his life. Despite some early experimentation with painting, the young artist quickly shifted his focus, almost exclusively, onto the perfection of sculpture, during his early years was predominantly experimentation with abstraction with the first known large scale work dating back to 1966.
By 1968 Di Modica was ready for his first major exhibition in which he premiered a body of raw abstract bronzes, most of which he had cast using his homemade foundry, always using the traditional Italian techniques in the prestigious Villa Medici. By this point in time he has already began working on monumental abstract works. Around this time in Florence, he also set to work on his first depiction of the Crucifixion of Christ. However and sadly, Di Modica, unhappy with the final results, went on to destroy his first crucifixion as well as his first monumental 1968 abstract.
In the late 1960’s, whilst working in the famous Studio Nicoli in Carrara, Di Modica first encountered Henry Moore, who he was working alongside in the studio whilst Moore prepared for his 1972 Florentine retrospective exhibition. This influence has a strong and lasting impact upon Di Modica with a whole new style emerging shortly afterwards.
After a decade in Florence, Di Modica grew frustrated by the limitations of the City for the development of his career and he made the decision, like so many of his Italian countrymen before him, to set out for America in pursuit of his future. In the early 70’s he arrived in New York where he set to work on establishing himself in the then capital of the art market. It was on Grande Street where he opened up his first NYC sculpture studio, choosing to operate completely privately without the help and support of a gallery, a decision he stuck to for over 55-years.
During his early NYC years Di Modica’s work changed considerably from the raw bronze castings of his 1968 show as his shapes and lines became smoother and more refined. It was during this time he began combining materials such as stainless steel and bronze in single works. Often large-scale hand carved marble works could be seen outside of Grand Street which he put on show for the public or sometimes because they were simply too big to maneuver into the studio - once even transporting a 40 tone single block of Carrara marble to NYC.
By 1977 Di Modica felt established enough in NYC to make his first major premier but decided he would do it in his own way. Having completed 8 monumental abstract works he loaded them onto the back of a flat bed truck. Upon turning up on 5 th Avenue, purposefully blocking off the street, he went on to unload the works and with no prior warning, installing them outside of the Rockefeller Centre. However caught in the act he managed to convince the mayor at the time to let him keep the sculptures there after a small fine. And the next day the late night stunt made front page of the NY Post.
After his first decade in NYC, he had been able to build up a private following of important collectors of his work, which was allowing him to drive his career forwards. So much so, that by the early 80’s he purchased a derelict plot of land at 54 Crosby Street which he planned on developing. He started by destroying the shack, which was in place and then cleaning up the site to find the original foundations. Always having to split his resources between developing new works and building Crosby Street, he often relied upon salvaged materials to buld. Over a number of years, he proceeded to build Crosby Street 3 floors high which became his new sculpture studio. It was during these years he also had a young neighbor, whom he did not always get along with - Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Still not satisfied with the 3-stories at Crosby Street he decided he wanted to create a basement. But unfortunately the City would not grant planning permission. Undeterred and with his Sicilian defiance, he began digging into the ground with the help of a few friends. And in order to avoid detection they would sneak out the ruble under the cover of darkness and sneak in the new building materials, which of course were often salvaged. And upon completion, Di Modica had gone on to develop a multi story basement, making Crosby Street 5-floors in total.
It was during the 80’s, Di Modica began moving slowly towards a more figurative style of sculpture but however in his own stylized way with soft curves. In the period 1983-85 he began work on what was to become one of his most important works, Il Cavallo, a semi-abstract depiction of the horse biting its tail. Originally cast in bronze and 10.5ft in height, he decided to unveil the sculpture on Valentines Day 1985 where the work went on to be showcased outside the Lincoln Center.
By 1987, Di Modica had surpassed even his wildest of dreams. He had some of the worlds most important collectors following his work, he owned a 5-storey Manhattan property complete with his Ferrari outside, and all of which he had achieved more-or-less single handedly. And it was in this year Black Monday struck and the proceeding stock market slump, which was the catalyst to his most important work – Charging Bull. His original ide was to create a sculpture, which inspired all whom came into contact with it to carry on fighting with strength and determination through the hard times for the future. He began working on sketches of the sculpture by travelling to a bull farm outside the City where he would use the live bulls as his models. Once happy with the lines, he began creating a full-scale model of Charging Bull in his Crosby St studio, all completely self-financed, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. After two years the sculpture was complete.
The night before the installation, Di Modica spent the night on Wall Street monitoring the police patrols, trying to find his window of opportunity. Satisfied that he had found his ideal installation spot and the routine of the NYPD, he returned home to rest. The following night, after loading Charging Bull onto the back of a truck, with the help of some friends, Di Modia and his crew set out for the New York Stock Exchange. However upon arrival, unbeknown to him and whilst he had been resting, a 40ft high Christmas tree had been placed exactly where he wanted to drop Charging Bull. Undeterred and quite happy, as the sculpture was his gift to the American people, he continued with his plan and proceeded to install the 16ft bronze in less than 5-minutes from the back of the truck.
After installing Charging Bull, Di Modica waited around to see the reaction of all the people as they arrived for work to see their surprise. And unsurprisingly everyone was instantly in love. Also unsurprisingly, the City authorities were less happy and arranged for a local company to come and take the unauthorized sculpture away. But upon its removal there was spontaneous uproar as all the local traders demanded its return and a petition was started to bring the sculpture back. In the face of such a reaction, the Parks Commissioner Henry Stern found a new home for Di Modica’s masterpiece at Bowling Green, which is where it can be found to this day.
Charging Bull went on to become one of the world’s most iconic works of art, drawing millions of visitors each year and symbolic of the works creator. However despite the success of Charging Bull, Di Modica chose to carry on working completely privately in his own way.
Towards the end of the 80’s, Gorbechev's government in the USSR initiated a public project to create new museum in central Moscow. As part of the project, Di Modica began work on a monumental bear sculpture, intended to sit outside of the museum. Sadly the project collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union and the model for the sculpture destroyed. The only remains of the model are old photos in which the bear is stood coyly on four feet with his head dipped submissively.
For years after Charging Bull, Di Modica was inundated with commission requests for him to create a sculpture of the bear. He was even offered a commission to create a bear to the same scale as Charging Bull for the two works to stand opposite one and another. However he always rejected the proposals as he did not want to create a sculpture associated with financial bear markets, as he saw this as negative and totally against what Charging Bull was symbolic of. However in late 2013, Di Modica’s first art dealership was discussing the Russian bear project with a private client, whom wanted to commission the sculpture. After 25-years and much discussion with Di Modica, he finally agreed to complete the sculpture with the caveat that it would never be displayed publicly with Charging Bull.
Attacking Bear, like Charging Bull, took two years to create, and the final result unrecognizable in comparison to the original model. It is a depiction of a bear on all four feet stood strong and assertive whilst roaring. Originally cast in copper, the sculpture is considered one of Di Modica’s strongest works to date and a celebration of the strength and resilience of the Russian people.
Mid 2000’s, Di Modica received an offer from one of the world’s most important collectors to purchase the original Charging Bull and the rest of the edition. After discussion a confidential deal was reached on the condition that the new owner agreed never to remove the original Charging Bull from Wall Street. With the proceeds of the sale, Di Modica began his new and possibly most ambitious project, Studio of the New Renaissance, in which he purchased a 12-acre plot of land in his home town of Vittoria with the aim to building an international sculpture school, drawing students from all around the world to teach them the traditional Italian techniques of sculpting.
In 2008, the City of Shanghai approached Di Modica with a commission proposal for him to make a second version of Charging Bull to be placed in the most historically important district of the town, The Bund. The commission was intended to acclaim the growing and strengthening financial markets of Shanghai. Di Modica decided for this depiction to be of a younger, leaner form than the original Charging Bull in order to be inline with the message, and finished in a deep red patina symbolic of the Chinese people.
Upon completion of the monumental Shanghai Bund Bull in the U.S.A, it was loaded into a gigantic crate and sent by sea to China. In 2009, the sculpture arrived and the City authorities arranged a grand unveiling.
Di Modica now divides his time between New York and Sicily. His current focus is the completion of the School of the New Renaissance and, showing no signs of slowing down, he is working on his largest sculpture project to-date which has been over 10-years in the making which he aims to unveil to the public by 2020.