Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Picasso, Move over - Public Loves Corn on the Curb ; Fiberglass Flora and Fauna on Display in US Cities Are a Civic Leader's Dream, but Others Jeer It as McArt

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Picasso, Move over - Public Loves Corn on the Curb ; Fiberglass Flora and Fauna on Display in US Cities Are a Civic Leader's Dream, but Others Jeer It as McArt

Article excerpt

When it comes to public art, it's a zoo out there.

Fiberglass pigs, rabbits, and buffalo are stampeding across urban landscapes, greeting gawking travelers and perking up inner cities.

The sheer number of projects - from fish in New Orleans and Boston to Corn on the Curb in Bloomington, Ill., - is unprecedented. Indeed, more and more cities are turning from so- called "plop pieces" - like massive, city-funded plaza sculptures - to breezy, corporate-funded works that lure tourists.

Yet all the colorful animals and vegetables and cartoon characters are raising questions on the nature of public art, with critics branding the new works as kitsch that avoids controversy. Still, the works are drawing more praise than censure, and the trend continues to grow.

"The nature of the pieces has changed because the sources of funding have changed," says Betsy Fahlman, a professor of art history at Arizona State University. "And the vision has changed - people want something more integrated into the community."

Inspired by an exhibit in Switzerland, Chicago was the first US city to try the idea with 300 fiberglass cows last year, reportedly generating $200 million. Since then, Grand Rapids, Mich., has added rabbits; St. Paul, Minn., has erected Snoopies in honor of native Charles Schulz; and Buffalo, N.Y. displays bison.

The concept is a civic leader's dream, even lending itself to a simple formula. First, select an object that represents the city. Next, collect corporate sponsors to pay for the works. Then, select local artists hungry for recognition. Last, place the pieces strategically around the city to lure visitors beyond the beaten track.

All of this tends to unite sometimes disparate community elements, and when it's all over, the art can be auctioned off, with proceeds going to local charities.

Civic self-interest has always been a part of public art, which is generally viewed as having come into its own in the late 1960s, when American cities were in the grip of riots and urban blight and flight. …

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