In Baltimore, 6-foot tropical fish, resplendent in feathers or stars, turn the city into an open-air aquarium. Orlando, Fla., has 6-foot reptiles crawling the streets in a display of Art Gecko. Rochester, Mich., is having a Ewe Review. Look to Dallas for more than 200 winged horses, while Lexington, Ky., settles for the more pedestrian kind. Los Angeles chose to make angels visible. In Tampa, Fla., loggerhead turtles on are parade. "I am not wild about the cow-crazed merchandising machine," sniffed organizer Jay Goulde to The New York Times.
Turtles, you see, raise environmental awareness, while cows raise only cash.
Oodles of it. Chicago's cows brought in an estimated $200 million in tourist trade, and the cows themselves, expected to reap $250,000 when auctioned for charity, instead brought in more than $3 million for good causes as American paid up to $100,000 each to take them home. Lawn decoration, anyone?
Is it kitsch? Duh. So what? The problem comes when conservators of high culture mistake kitsch for great art, or art (I might add) for a kind of religion. A Los Angeles critic denounced angels on parade as "garbage on the street." A citizen of St. Louis said artists who participate in such public spectacles "should all be made pariahs." "It is hard to consider it real art," agrees urban historian Mary Gray. "... The whole thing has perhaps gotten out of control. I don't think it's dangerous, but a lot of them are very ugly."
Great art, like religion, can make visible truths of the spirit. But so can other forms of human creativity. Too many artists disdain the uplift game, preferring to litter public space with their hulking Tilted Arcs and Piss Christs designed to epater and uglify the bourgeoisie simultaneously.
Must everything be Art with a capital A? I love the cows. The giant chairs. And the fish! And it's not just me.
This summer, Chicago, which started the cow craze, has created a kind of ersatz Americana museum in the local zoo from examples of this "art" from all across America. "An incredible number of people are coming into the zoo and having their pictures taken with these creatures," zoo director Kevin Bell told The New York Times. "Something about them really seems to grab people."
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.