Thursday, August 10, 2006

Cow Parade: Budapest and Boston

And so I decided to instead write about cows.

That is correct, cows.

The CowParade is a phenomenal public art success by most measures. If you have not yet experienced the parade of cows in a major metropolis, it is a public art moo-vement (forgive me) intended to make art accessible for the masses. Cows are safe. Have you met a person who did not like cows? We all love ‘em, and most of us happily eat them. (Pause and consider what that says about human nature.)

And then someone got the bright idea to use cows as a blank canvas. Artists in each city transform the same basic cow model into fantastic flights of imagination (or sadly, mere advertisements for the companies who sponsor them). Peter Hanig, the even coordinator explains:

Art is about breaking down barriers. It gets people to feel, to think, to react. So when you come across life-sized cow sculptures that have been covered in mirrors or gumdrops, cows that have been painted with elaborate themes or transformed into something else entirely, you can’t help but stop and think about what it means. All your preconceived ideas go out the window. Suddenly people see that art can be fun and that art can be interesting to everyone, not just people who frequent museums.

Art can be fun. Indeed. I am not sure what artists have to say about that, but I can imagine that some agree and some are not amoosed (sorry, I can’t help it, really.)

Peruse the CowParade website. It is a hoot. People love these cows. And the cows raise a huge amount of money for charity. It looks like a win-win game: artists get public exposure, charities get cash, and the art is temporary (so no one has to actually LIVE with it for longer than a summer).

The cows do reflect a city’s culture. Boston’s cows were upright, dignified chaps. Budapest’s cows—yes, they are hosting the parade this summer—are not of the Boston Breed. Strangely, however, the official CowParade website does not list Budapest as a participant. Odd. Is Budapest a renegade cow stampede? Two striking examples of cows in Budapest:

Handicap Cow: his two back legs were amputated and replaced by old-fashioned wheelchair wheels. Not exactly whimsical. Especially when a beggar with a similar impediment worked the subway stairs within sight.

And my personal favorite: The Ice-Cream Cow. The cow is located just near the traditional cafĂ© for distinguished ladies and gents, the Gerbaund. (Update: I recently learned that this is its new location. It was moved here after much controversy. Read this article from Budapest's English weekly newspaper, Budapest Sun.) It is blue cow ice cream melting into the hot summer pavement. If you imagined a cow as ice-cream, where would you have to insert the wooden stick? Exactly. On the stick it says: Don’t Lick.

I love Budapest and its cows. Whimsical without the sentiment.

Another Update: I found the official Hungarian site for the CowParade. Check it out and dust off your Hungarian language skills!

(Photo credits go to my Dad and his first digital camera.)


Anonymous said...

about 8 years ago they did that here in Toronto with life sized Moose statues...companies would commission artists to decorate their Moose and then put it somewhere in the city. Others would donate money to have a moose delivered to a school where the kids would decorate it...i'm not sure if it was done anywhere else prior to that...but some of the moose (meese?) are still around the city in front windows of businesses.


J.K.Kelley said...

I believe the CowParade started in Chicago. The city picked the cow as the model because of the story about the cow kicking over the lantern that caused the huge Chicago fire a long time ago. (So I was told by a friend yesterday.) Thus cows "fit" Chicago the same way moose "fit" Cananda. But why cows in Boston and Budapest and across the globe?

South Bend did a parade of gorillas a few years ago in conjuction with a new gorilla exhibit at the local zoo. I have to admit, the cows make a better blank canvas. The gorillas' gangly arms and legs kept getting vandalized.

Anonymous said...

hmm..interesting simile...gorillas in south bend, cows in chicago...and we have meese.

a psychologist would have a field day!