There is a herd mentality afoot in New York. This summer 500 cows will be set loose from the Battery to the Bronx. But leave your milk pail home. Bring the kids and camera instead. These are life-sized fiberglass faux-cows that have been specially painted by local artists, most of whom competed for the privilege -- and $2000 stipend. A group called Cowparade -- in cahoots with NYC 2000, the Mayor's Office and the Parks Department is billing this bovine boom as the "first public art exhibit ever staged in all five NYC boroughs."
The cows will be in public places like parks, lobbies and medians, although a few may stray to such locales the decks of boats. At the end of the summer there will be a cattle auction. Proceeds will go to children's and educational charities as well as the Parks Department Foundation.
How now, these cows? Blame it on the Swiss. They thought unleashing such a herd in Zurich would be good for civic pride and art appreciation. And so it was, and so this bestial idea traveled to Chicago where Mayor Daley called it "the most successful promotional event in the city's history." Our own Mayor, not yet in his effusively sensitive persona, did his own quasi-kowtowing. "CowParade [will add] to New York City's creative, dynamic environment, stimulating the economy," he said.
Ah yes, the ecownomy.* Don't think these cows are just cheap exhibitionism. The total price tag will top $2 million. That's where cow sponsorships come in. They cost $7,500 per cow, and come along with plenty of marketing benefits for those so inclined. A spokesman said that nearly all the cows are sponsored, singly or in herds. For example, the multinational chemical giant BASF sponsored 55 cows; Paine Weber and Emigrant Savings Bank also took some.
What do artists think? Patricia Nix, who regularly exhibits all over the world, initially said that the cows were too silly for her. She refused repeatedly when the cow committee tried to rope her in. "Then," she said, "I saw this cow full blown in a dream. I agreed the next morning and suddenly I was being held hostage by this huge heifer in my foyer. I worked on it 12-14 hours a day for eight days. My dealer told me that this is one of the most important pieces I've ever done."
Dozens of cows are being painted at the cow corral, and can be viewed at the Park Avenue underpass. Among them are "Mattress Cow," which comes complete with the requisite "pasturepedic do not remove tag," and "Moobile Library Cow" that features various painted titles including "Tail of Two Cities," and "Far from the Madding Cow."
In 1830 British travel writer Frances Trollope (Anthony's mom) noted rural Americans' uncanny ability to live on "terms of primaeval intimacy with [their] cow." It may have taken 150 years, but this summer even we urbanites will know just what she meant.
Rhonda sounds off:
What better cash cow for the city than well, cows. Chicago took in millions in added tourist dollars, never mind that most serious artists scoffed. They scoffed in New York too, but since when does that matter? Here the moovers* and shakers are milking those heifers for all they're worth. CowParade Holdings Corporation, the private in this "unique public-private partnership," boldly predicts that this stampede is "destined to be the biggest event of the Millennium in New York." Maybe, or maybe that's just the mad cow disease talking. In any event, it seems clear that the bovine bacchanal may prove that the art of cowmerce* (and vice versa) is as robust as ever. To beckon potential sponsors Cowparade declared that "with hundreds of cows roaming...NYC, patrons who adopt the most cows will be the most widely recognized." Among the marketing perks offered are banner ads and hyperlinks on the Cow website, discounts on official merchandise, and, of course, a permanent plaque affixed to the base of each cow." It's corporate branding that even an animal rights activist can love.
*so shoot me and send me to the Jello factory - if you really want to groan, take a look at the painful puns piled like cow patties all over the official website: http://www.cowparade.org
Rhonda Zangwill is a writer, editor and teacher in New York City. She does not claim to be a critic, but she knows what she likes. She has been published in various special interest and trade journals, even some that are still in existence.