Just the other day, I was commenting to a friend that I thought it was really great that Edinburgh doesn’t get all tarted-up for Christmas. There are some tasteful strings of lights here and there, a few special Christmas markets have opened up, and there’s a little County Fair-type grouping of rides for the kids near the Scott Monument, but no grotesque displays. There are no animatronic nativity scenes. No one decided to put a big red bow on the Castle. This understated approach to the holiday season sits very well with me, and I walk around with a smile while I think to myself “Edinburgh is a real class act of a city”.
But soon dear Auld Reekie is going to lose its head. An invasion is due to take place that is worse than bows on castles or an animatronic Baby Jesus. Succumbing to the same folly that has attacked major cities across North America, soon Edinburgh too will play host to its very own Cow Parade.
Artists are invited to decorate fiberglass models of cows, which will be placed throughout the city. If the efforts of other cities are any indication (I witnessed the travesty that was “Moose In The City” in Toronto), the finished cows will be mostly eyesores and will be vandalized in short order.
Instead of commissioning new, challenging public art, Cow Parade projects and their variants allow those instigating such projects to imagine they are supporting culture, when they are really producing public-art-by-numbers.
The Cow Parade website says: “While the cow sculptures remain the same, each city encourages creative individuals to explore the cow canvas – challenged by the artwork from past events, inspired by the cultural influences of their respective cities, and moved by their own interpretation of the cow as an art object.”
…interpretation of the cow as an art object? I’ve really heard it all, now. I suppose Cow Parade is supposed to be art “for the people”, since these objects are not abstract arrangements of steel and stone unveiled in a flurry of artspeak. But again basing my reaction on my experience with Moose in The City, most people, (art-friendly and art-indifferent people alike) will simply view them with slight bemusement or irritation, seeing them as sculptural red herrings instead of a convincing demonstration that public art is a good thing. A few tourists may take some snaps of the decorated cows, but its the residents who have to live with them. I’ll take steel, stone and artspeak any day over a herd of fiberglass bovines with varying paint jobs. But the best I can hope for in this situation is that some deserving artists take the Â£750 commissioning fee and do their best with such an awkward canvas, that the cows are quickly auctioned off for charity, and that the next public art project in Edinburgh is a little more interesting.