Jasper Huang (黃嘉祥) says his bovine sculpture expresses different aspects of Taiwan: the cow itself represents the country’s agricultural past, colorful embroidery draped over the cow’s back points to the work of its artisans, and the Swarovski crystals embedded in the cow’s hide symbolize the consumerism of its urban centers.
“Taiwan is a young country and I wanted my sculpture to reflect common symbols from the past until today,” said Huang, a 31-year-old who in 2000 took top honors at fashion design competition held by Elle Magazine.
Like Huang’s Who Is the Next Rocking Cowboy? (誰是下一個 Rocking Cowboy?), many of the other 108 life-size fiberglass cows scattered throughout Taipei as part of CowParade Taipei 2009 also address aspects of Taiwanese culture, art or society. Taipei is the second Asian city to host the public art exhibit, after Tokyo, which, according to organizers, has over the past decade seen more than 5,000 cows designed by roughly 10,000 artists attract half a billion viewers at five dozen exhibitions throughout the globe’s major cities.
Jerry Elbaum, president of the for-profit CowParade Holding Corp, said the cows have become a global art institution, partly because of their uniqueness and also because CowParade fosters art education. Each CowParade concludes with a gala during which selected cows are auctioned off to the highest bidder, events that have raised a total of US$25 million for charitable causes, Elbaum said. The Taipei auction will be held in April.
“Taipei is the finest CowParade that has [yet] been produced,” said the former attorney, who took courses on Chinese art history in college. “I have never seen an array of art that I have seen in this exhibit. It’s such a top level of perfection and creativity. I have yet to see a cow [in Taipei] that I didn’t like.”
WHAT: COWPARADE TAIPEI 2009 WHERE: TAIPEI CITY
WHEN: UNTIL MARCH 31 ON THE NET: COWPARADE-TAIPEI.COM
But not everyone, it seems, loves the three-dimensional bovine canvases. From Madrid to Stockholm, the exhibit has seen its fair share of accidental damage, theft and vandalism — so much so that a “cow hospital” is now a part of many exhibits.
“It’s mostly vandalism,” Elbaum said before going through a litany of examples. During the New York exhibit in 2001, a group of pranksters were caught attempting to lift a cow into the back of a pickup truck in the early hours of the morning. In 2002 hooligans damaged cows in London’s Piccadilly Circus. Last year in Madrid several cows were completely destroyed.
When the exhibit appeared in Stockholm in 2004, a group called The Militant Graffiti Artists of Stockholm took the position that CowParade was not art and demanded that the company issue a statement saying so. “If we did not make a statement that CowParade was not art they would kidnap one of our cows and behead it,” Elbaum said with a grin. They gave him 48 hours to respond.
Elbaum refused and two days later a headless cow appeared in a popular shopping mall — an event that made headlines in the US. The sculptor reattached the head and the cow went on to command the highest price at the auction. “It wasn’t a particularly good piece of art,” Elbaum said, “but it had a good story behind it.”
Elbaum expects a certain amount of vandalism and general wear and tear in Western cities, but he is flabbergasted by the destruction that has been inflicted on the herd in Taipei. “Having been [to Taipei] a couple of times, I couldn’t have imagined seeing much damage to the cows,” he said. “People respect art here and they are not going to damage them. But it’s happened.”