Tuesday, August 03, 1999

Is it piggish to try to swipe Chicago cows?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I am suffering from serious cow envy. A life-sized fiberglass herd is roaming the streets of Chicago, and never has Bossy looked so prosperous. Well, truthfully, sometimes Bossy looks like a tart, teetering down Michigan Avenue in high heels and a tight skirt.

        There also are burly cows in hard hats, cows in rhinestones, cows painted with flowers, cows on wheels, cows on skates, cows in every imaginable color.

        Some think it's public art, but art critics have turned up their noses.

        “This isn't art, it's just commerce,” sniffs Neal Pollack of the Chicago Reader. Well, now there's a reason to scoff, if I ever heard one. All that dreadful money — an estimated $100 million in tourism and cow-related merchandise and promotions — not to mention that you don't have to go inside a museum or drink white wine to see one.

Holy Cow!
        Last week, on a trip to Chicago I saw cows climbing the sides of buildings, grazing in the parks and sunning on the beach.

        Carmen Mooranda slinks on the second floor of the Merchandise Mart in fishnet pantyhose. People were lining up to buy maps so they could find Orcow with a dorsal fin and the Holy Cow! tribute to the late sportscaster Harry Caray.

        Public art director Mike Lash says people are riding them, hugging them and “I saw a 3-year-old walk up Michigan Avenue and kiss each one on the nose.”

        A BBC crew has filmed them, and they've appeared in magazines and newspapers all over the world. The city is milking this for all it's worth.

        The idea came from Switzerland, where Zurich's 800 cows were credited last summer with drawing nearly a million tourists. Chicago businessman Peter Hanig saw them and pitched “Cows on Parade” to his hometown's Department of Cultural Affairs. Costing between $2,000 and $3,000 in unpainted condition, 300 cows have been sponsored by businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals.

        Artists, ranging from well-known names such as Helmut Jahn and Ed Paschke to anonymous students, were commissioned to paint them. Each one then is taken to the Cow Barn where it's given a coat of graffiti-resistant varnish. Cow mischief has been minimal.

Bovine bonanza
        Everybody loves them. Since the exhibit opened June 15, the two city-operated souvenir stores have been selling cow key chains, T-shirts and baseball hats as fast as they can get them in. Sales are expected to increase by 80 percent by the time the cows are rounded up at the end of October. Hotels are selling out of special “Cow Packages” that include milk and cookies. Sales of disposable cameras have shot up an estimated 40 percent over last summer.

        Sotheby's has been hired to do the final livestock sale. I want one. Actually, I want them all. Except I'd make them pigs. Flying pigs.

        Can't you see it next year? They could line the Flying Pig Marathon route, then be moved all over the region. We have an enormous wealth of talented artists and public-spirited corporations. We have a sense of humor. Well, sort of.

        The possibilities are endless. A TJ Maxx pig could look just like the Saks pig, only cheaper. We could put Pigmailion in front of the post office. The Bengal pig could be demanding a better pig sty. WCPO could commemorate its history with Oinkle Al.

        We could have pigs carrying chili dogs and pigs wearing Reds hats. Porkter & Gamble could sponsor a Mr. Clean pig wearing an earring. Jones the Florist could hire an artist to interpret the Days of Swine and Roses. We can make as many bad puns as Chicago and smile just as wide. Can't we? Sure we can.

        Cows were a natural for Chicago with the stockyard connection and Mrs. O'Leary's Daisy and the Bulls. So, they can keep their cows.

        We'll take pigs.

        And the moola, of course.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com