Tevon Varlack, 42, of Dallas was charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct on Saturday in connection with the vandalism.
A witness told the New York Times that Varlack was cursing President Trump as he swung the banjo against the bronze sculpture, sending loud clanging through the Bowling Green park in Manhattan’s financial district and startling tourists hoping for a photo with the bull’s famous gonads. Police declined to confirm this, writing only that the man responsible for the attack was “ranting incoherently.”
Arturo Di Modica, the Sicilian artist behind the sculpture, told the New York Post that he thinks Varlack acted out of a desire for attention. “The guy wanted publicity and he did it for publicity,” the artist said. “He knew he was going to be arrested and he knew he was going to be in the paper."
According to a criminal complaint filed Sunday, Varlack was playing loud music from a portable speaker while hacking at the statue. When an officer picked up the “metal imitation banjo,” Varlack reportedly said, “I did it. The banjo and speaker are mine."
Fernando Luis Alvarez, a gallery manager who works with Di Modica, told the Times that repairs could cost between $75,000 and $150,000.
Varlack, who was released without bail, declined to comment when contacted on Monday. His lawyer, Allen Leonard Farbman from the Legal Aid Society, also declined to provide a statement.
Created and discreetly dropped outside the New York Stock Exchange in 1989, “Charging Bull” was meant to serve as an expression of Di Modica’s gratitude to the United States and a source of inspiration for people reeling from the 1987 stock market crash, the artist has said. In recent years, however, the 11-foot-tall, 7,000-pound bull has become the target of activists who have fashioned it as the symbol of various social ills, from inequity and patriarchy to climate change denial and budget cuts.
In 2011, before the Occupy Wall Street protests exploded, activists painted parts of the bull with the symbol representing anarchy. Later that year, at the height of Occupy Wall Street, police placed barricades around the statue to protect it from activists camping out in the financial district. When the metal barriers were removed, three years after the protests ended, the vandalism returned: In 2017, climate activists splashed blue paint on the statue as a show of “solidarity against climate change denial."
Of all the activism affecting Di Modica’s work, the one thing that has attracted the most attention and reportedly caused the artist the most distress is “Fearless Girl,” the sculpture of a four-foot bronze girl opposite the bull, commissioned by an investment firm to commemorate “the power of women in leadership." In 2017, following what seemed like a subtweet from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio implying that the artist was against “women taking up space,” Di Modica held a news conference denouncing the statue for corrupting the artistic integrity of “Charging Bull,” and he called on local officials to remove it.
“The bull belongs to everybody, to the world,” Di Modica said to the New York Post this weekend. “In New York we must take care of it that nothing happens again.”