Herd Around Town

Call it bovine intervention. This year, from June 15 through October 31, Chicago will host “Cows on Parade,” a public art project that will line our streets with no fewer than 300 near life-size fiberglass cows, decorated by a variety of local artists, architects, and graphic designers. The 90-pound replicas of Swiss dairy cows will be installed on specially crafted concrete pads down Michigan Avenue, throughout the Loop, along Oak Street Beach, and around the new museum campus at the south end of Grant Park; strays may show up as far afield as O’Hare and the Museum of Science and Industry.

For a city that likes to dye its river green every year, this may seem like a natural. But “Cows on Parade” was actually swiped from Zurich, which presented a similar exhibit last summer; Swiss officials claim the 800 cows increased the city’s summer tourism by a million people. Chicagoan Peter Hanig, president of the Hanig’s Footwear chain, was visiting Zurich and ran into the cows everywhere. He was baffled at first, but eventually he realized that the exhibit was filled with “humorous visual puns and some great art.” Hanig came home convinced that Chicago would benefit from such a show and, enlisting Michael Christ of Tiffany & Company and Daniel Nach of Salvatore Ferragamo, presented the idea to cultural affairs commissioner Lois Weisberg. “Her positive response was almost instantaneous,” says Hanig. The Department of Cultural Affairs will orchestrate “Cows on Parade” in conjunction with the Illinois Bureau of Tourism and the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association; individual cows will be sponsored by local businesses and arts institutions.

The event in Zurich took two years to put together, but Cultural Affairs is trying to pull this off in less than one. Mike Lash, director of the city’s public art program, and Nathan Mason, the project “cow-ordinator,” have invited 400 local artisans to design and create the cows; they say that so far about 200 have accepted, including such notables as Ed Paschke and Ruth Duckworth. Most of the participants will receive $1,000, though 25 will be paid $2,000, and 15–the cream, as it were–will get $4,000. About 25 cows will be decorated free of charge by local public schools and by Gallery 37, Weisberg’s job training program. The first load of 100 cows is expected to arrive this weekend from Switzerland. Lash says the department tried to find a local company that could mass-produce the sculptures, but time and expense constraints forced it to import the cows, which are manufactured in three positions: standing, grazing, and reclining. The city will deliver the cows to artists’ studios, or the artists can come to the Loop to work on them; thousands of square feet in the Page Brothers Building, next door to the Chicago Theatre, will be used as a cow painting and storage facility for the next several months.

Lash says most if not all of the show’s cost will be met by sponsors. Hundreds of local organizations have received brochures soliciting funds for a single cow, a small group, or even a herd of ten, and so far about 100 companies have agreed to sponsor at least one. For $2,000 sponsors can claim an unpainted cow and pick an artist outside the city’s list; to sponsor an artist from the city’s roster, sponsors will pay $3,000, $5,000, or $10,000, depending on the artist’s fee. Cows cannot be designed for blatant promotional purposes, though a Zurich cow sponsored by Tiffany’s was painted the light blue of the famous jeweler’s signature boxes and decorated with baubles. When the exhibit ends in October, the city will try to auction off the cows, with proceeds going to a charity chosen by the respective sponsor. Some of the Zurich cows reportedly sold for as much as $20,000.

According to Lash, “Cows on Parade” is targeting tourists within a 500-mile radius who typically visit Chicago once or twice a year: “Unless they happen to be serious cow lovers, people aren’t going to fly in from New York or Los Angeles.” But not every artist in town is lining up at the trough. “What’s the point, unless you plan on a future in animal husbandry?” asks Tony Fitzpatrick. “Chicago is a great city, and it doesn’t need six-foot plastic tchotchkes to bring in tourists.” Fitzpatrick may be right. But there’s no use crying over . . . well, you get the idea.

Garthwatch ’99: Fox on the Run

Garth Drabinsky, the former CEO of Livent Inc., and Myron Gottlieb, the former president, became fugitives from justice last week when they failed to show up at a federal court in Manhattan to be arraigned on charges of fraud. Both men claim they can’t get a fair trial in America; should either of them cross the border now, he’ll be arrested on sight. The feds plan to file for extradition, a complicated process that could take months.

Meanwhile Livent continues its slide into the abyss: according to papers filed in a New York bankruptcy court last week, the company sustained an operating loss of $4.7 million in the six weeks after it filed for Chapter 11 last November. Another 100 people have been laid off, decimating Livent’s Canadian offices. Yet key executives are still pulling in generous salaries: court documents indicate that current president David Maisel earns about $9,000 a week, CEO Roy Furman makes $12,000, and artistic director Todd Haimes makes almost $10,000, even as he holds down a second job at the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Peter Hanig photo by Nathan Mandell; uncredited painted cow.