Sunday, June 04, 2000

Here in Porkopolis, real artists don't paint cows

By Owen Findsen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati has its pigs. New York City has cows. New Orleans has fish. And Miami is considering flamingos.

        Pigs, cows, fish, flamingos: Which species is most worthy of being the canvas for public art displays?

(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        The debate began this week, perhaps predictably, in a lawyer's office.

        In an international contract dispute over who has the rights to make cows for New York City's public art project, an attorney made a disparaging remark about the subject of Cincinnati's Big Pig Gig. He said cows are better than pigs.

        Cincinnati already has about 70 painted pigs on its streets for the Big Pig Gig, sponsored by Art Works. Nearly 400 full-size fiberglass pigs will be out in Cincinnati, Newport and Covington before the sum mer is over. Celebrating the Tristate's pork-market heritage, the porcine artworks will be auctioned off in October to raise money for local charities.

        Defending cows in a New York Times story, Jerome D. Elbaum, a Hartford, Conn., lawyer who is president of CowParade Holdings, was quoted saying:

        “These forms like flamingos and hogs will not produce significant or lasting art, because the shapes of the animals are wrong. Flamingos do not have a large surface. A flamingo does not lend itself to art. Cows are benign. They immediately attract art. You speak to artists, serious artists, and they only want to paint cows.”

        Mr. Elbaum's remark didn't go over well in Cincinnati.

    Pigs here. Cows there. Parades of animals and vegetables are spreading across the land. Here are other cities and projects either under way or planned.
• Austin, Minn.: pigs.
• Beaufort, S.C.: Cows on Vacation.
• Bloomington, Ill., 6-foot ears of corn: Corn on the Curb.
• Lexington, Ky.: Horsemania.
• Miami, Fla.: either flamingos or dolphins.
• New Orleans, fish: Festival of Fins.
• Norfolk, Va.: Mermaids on Parade.
• Orlando, Fla.: lizards.
• Peoria, Ill.: pigs.
• Rhode Island: Mr. Potato Head.
• Seattle, Wa.: pigs.
• St. Paul, Minn.: Snoopy statues for Peanuts on Parade.
• Stamford, Ct.: Cow Parade.
• Toronto, Ont.: Moose in the City.
• West Orange N.J.: Cow Parade.
• White Fish, Mont.: Moose.
        “Sounds like sow-er grapes to me,” said Loveland artist Lynn Judd, creator of three pigs for Cincinnati.

        Challenged by the Enquirer to defend their position, the CowParade begged pardon.

        “For the record, we love pigs,” said CowParade spokesman Pat Smith. “The CowParade loves pigs. CowParade organizers have been in touch with Tamara Harkavy (ArtWorks executive director) about cross-promotional ideas between CowParade in New York and the Big Pig Gig in Cincinnati. We regret that in the excitement of dealing with a reporter about a complex issue, we misspoke and said something negative about pigs. We love pigs.”

        Apology accepted, but the question has been raised. Which species lends itself more readily to great art? After all, the notion of livestock-as-canvas is escalating around the world.

        Two summers ago, Zurich, Switzerland, was filled with 800 fiberglass cows, decorated by Swiss artists. Last summer, Chicago followed suit, with 260 aesthetically enhanced bovines, in what Chicago Mayor Richard Daley described as the most successful promotion in the city's history. New York turned to Zurich for more cows.

        Then, Cincinnati broke the mold with pigs. And other cities are being equally creative. Lexington has horses. Toronto has Moose. Orlando has lizards.

        But do pigs lend themselves to great art? And are they better than cows? Mayors of Cincinnati and New York City declined to return repeated calls for their opinion. But artists responded.

        “Of course they do,” said Michael Scott, New Richmond artist and creator of two pigs in gilded cages on Fountain Square. “I've just spent a week in Holland looking at Dutch painting in the museums there and saw some fine pigs. Dutch painter Jan Steen (1625-1679) did wonderful paintings of pigs. Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) reveled in pigs. The only painter I know of that did cows was Constant Troyon (French, 1810-1865) and he wound up going crazy and painting cows in the sky.”

        However, Mr. Scott's favorite species is peacocks, which roam free around his studio and pose for his paintings.

        But are Cincinnati's pigs better canvases than Lexington's horses?

        “Horses are more dignified,” said Judy Anderson, Deer Park. She created “Pig-casso,” shown at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and she is painting a horse for Lexington's Horsemania.

        “Lexington's project is more reserved than Cincinnati's. They are very serious about horses down there. There's not much opportunity for humor. You can make a beautiful horse, but you can have much more fun with pigs.”

        “Pigs are colorful,” said Ms. Judd, an artist who is widely known for her paintings of horses. “The three designs of Cincinnati's pigs give the artist great flexibility. A cow body is basically a square box. The whole body of the pig is a canvas. You can get outside the box a little easier with a pig than with a cow.”

Details, pig profiles
        And Cincinnati's pigs aren't ordinary pigs.

        “Pigs have wings,” said Brighton sculptor Patricia Renick, who is creating three lavish pigs.

        “It's beyond me why New York is doing cows,” Ms. Judd said. “They should do taxicabs. That would scream of New York.”

        Cincinnati doesn't have a legal problem with pigs, as New York has with cows, said Big Pig Gig co-chair Melody Sawyer Richardson. The Gig is a community art project for charity. There is money at stake in New York City's commercial, for-profit venture.

        New York's CowParade began by buying cows from Zurich, but decided the models were flimsy and dangerously flammable. They turned to other companies for cows. Now Zurich officials are claiming contract violation.

        The article in which pigs were disparaged was actually about the cow dispute in the Big Apple.

        Cincinnati's three pig designs started with designer Kathryn Holbrook. Her husband, Don Holbrook, owner of River City Scenic Inc. in Blue Ash, sculpted the first model and built the frame for the second.

        Eric Kilb's The Glass Hand in Cleves became the primary fabricator for the Big Pig Gig. Mr. Kilb hired independent sculptor Jay Lemmel to complete the second two pig models.

        “The molds and models for the pigs were commissioned by ArtWorks, and there is no question that we own them,” executive director Tamara Harkavy said. She said the pigs are not the art but are “a blank canvas for the creation of art.”

        The Glass Hand has produced 250 of the Big Pig Gig pigs and a firm in Springfield, Ohio, is making the rest. Glass Hand is also in the bidding to produce pigs for Seattle for 2001, and is making a bid to produce a flock of sheep for a community in Michigan. Today's Big Pig Profile: Piggysaurus

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