"Diamonds Are a Cow's Best Friend"
(photos ©1999, C.J. Peiffer)
Until the summer of 1999, when I ruminated on Chicago I thought of wind, frigid temperatures, and Lake Michigan. Now, I think of cows.
I knew Chicago had acquired a few COWnnections throughout its history. A cow allegedly caused the 1871 Chicago fire. The Chicago Bulls had scored big in the city. Stockyards were once a ‘mooving’ force in the area’s economy. But that summer, there was a new perspective on beef in Chicago.
I was in moo heaven when I visited the Windy City. There was a cow on nearly every street corner, grazing in each park, guarding each museum entrance. These were no ordinary cows. Over 300 simple cow sculptures had been transformed into works of art. They were bedecked, bejeweled, and somewhat bewildering to those who hadn’t ‘herd’ about Cows on Parade™.
The concept began in Zurich in 1998 where 800 fiberglass cows were credited with increasing tourism by nearly a million visitors. After seeing the Swiss cows, Peter Hanig of Chicago’s Hanig Footwear approached Chicago’s cultural commissioner with the idea of creating a similar display.
With the help of the Swiss government, the city imported over 300 sculptures. Ironically, many of the unpainted cows arrived in Chicago on April 1. Although their arrival had nothing to do with April Fools Day, it seemed a curious COWincidence.
Cows were purchased by companies or individuals who contracted artists to complete the works. The city purchased a number to be painted by artists who had submitted design proposals. Some were set aside for student artists.
I’m not sure why we find cows so COWmical, but they seem to instigate a COWllective silliness. The exhibit opened in mid-June 1999 with a celebration that included an a cappella group of lawyers in cow suits. (That must have been 'a line of bull.')
The promotion was expected to infuse $300,000 into the creative community and milk the talents of local artists. The city hoped the event would attract a stampede of visitors and between 100 and 200 million tourist dollars.
I admit I was skeptical. How many, I wondered, would make a trip to Chicago to see these whimsical bovines?
On Saturday afternoon, as I strolled the mile of Michigan Avenue from the Water Tower to the Art Institute, the streets were crowded with a herd of bovine admirers. I had difficulty taking photographs without cow lovers appearing in my view finder. These were not shoppers who happened to stop to appreciate the art work. They were there ---cameras in hand ---to see the cows.
Cows were greeted enthusiastically. Visitors talked to them and posed with them. They couldn’t help but smile at these humorous art works. Children climbed, petted and hugged them.
Heidi Kooi of the Chicago Office of Tourism told me very few of the sculptures had been vandalized. Most damage came from fans loving them too much. Several ‘substitute’ cows filled in for those that had to be removed for repairs.
And the sculptures were udderly fantastic. The exhibit shows that art doesn’t have to be serious. It can be fun as well as creative. Some cows displayed bright abstract designs. Many wore painted flowers, animals, or clouds. Some had been COWmouflaged in astroturf, mirrors, mosaic tiles, or gumdrops.
You may have guessed that my personal favorites were the ones that resulted from a mass outbreak of cow puns. They were titled “Herd Instinct,” “Moovies,” “The Milky Way,” “Moollennium,” “Cowch Potato,” “On the Moooove,” “Cow Sweet It Is!” and “Dairy-Go-Round.”
“Udder Romance” was a red and white cow dressed in heart-printed shorts and bunny slippers. “Stampede” had been covered in postage stamps. “Chi-COW-go” featured the city’s skyline on its flanks. “Moooonwalk” wore a space suit. Among my favorites was “InCOWgnito,” a cow wearing a mask and disguised in zebra stripes. The “Out of Cowtowner” sported sunglasses, Hawaiian shirt, camera, and backpack.
“Black and White and Read All Over” had been sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. “Holy Cow”, a tribute to the late Harry Caray, sat in front of the WGN radio station. Grazing near the Wrigley Building, “Double Moo” had been assembled from the front ends of two cows and painted in shades of Doublemint green. The Illinois Lottery sponsored “Lucky,” a cow covered in numbers.
Homages to famous artists were plentiful. “Moonet” had been decorated with waterlilies. “Guernsica” had been cut apart and reassembled into a cubist work. “Jazz Chicago! Merci Henri” displayed Matisse-inspired motifs. “Odalisque (Reclining Nude)” had been mounted up-side-down. “DaVinci Cow” floated in the O’Hare terminal on wings designed for Leonardo’s flying machine.
Even though recent theories discount the culpability of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, “Don’t Blame Daisy” and “Summer Heat” obviously referred to Chicago’s hottest event. “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” included a leaver that could be pushed downward for a ‘hot time’ triggering a hind leg to tip a stool and lantern.
In my opinion, the cream of the crop was “Diamonds Are a Cow’s Best Friend.” That flirtatious bovine wore a pink strapless evening gown, high heels, long gloves, ‘diamond’ jewelry and a seductive blonde curl on her forehead. Marilyn would have been charmed by her look-alike.
An unexpected consequence of the exhibit was that the horses from the city’s horse-and-carriage companies were not merely cowed by the colorful sculptures, they were downright terrified. Out of concern for public safety, horses were placed in a ring with a cow sculpture until they were comfortable with it. Chicago thus conducted the world’s first known sessions of cow therapy.
Cows on Parade™ ran through October 31, 1999 when the life-size painted and sculpted bovines were corralled for a cattle auction to benefit charities.
You can view more cow sculptures on another of my posts or via the Internet (see links below). Once you see the photos of the cows, you’ll be ruminating on Chicago’s bovine roots and thinking in cow puns, too.
(©1999, C.J. Peiffer)Find more of my Cow Parade™ photos on a later post by clicking HERE.
More photos of the cows can be found at: http://www.chicagotraveler.com/cows_on_parade.htm