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Washingtonians of a delicate aesthetic sensibility should consider themselves lucky: According to documents recently obtained by the Washington City Paper, we could now be suffering not from PandaMania, but from Bovine Inspiration. Developed in secret by the Department of Homeland Security and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the project was intended to transform the concrete anti-vehicular obstacles that ring many federal buildings into works of public art echoing “the obvious parallels between a hillside dotted with Jersey cows and our own downtown dotted with Jersey barriers.”
Citing a need to “beautify the landscape of robust-critical-infrastructure barricade systems”—as well as the $1 million raised during 2002’s successful Party Animals campaign—the joint effort was to provide specially designed polyurethane heads, horns, udders, and other bovine accouterments to artists interested in transforming barriers at more than 15 downtown locations. Last week, however, the project was suddenly mothballed, due to what one commission spokesperson calls “the irreconcilable imperatives of aesthetics and security, as well as the inherently unsustainable nature of thematic animal-based art.”
Here’s a look at the Washington that almost was:
Hands Off My Moo Ring!
It wasn’t Sherrie Dumbacher’s attempt to “bring one form of kitsch together with another” that doomed her entry, Hands Off My Moo Ring! It was a Department of Homeland Security adviser with veto power. “Coating a barrier with color-changing thermotropic-crystal paint is a very clever idea,” the official wrote. “But ultimately, the whole scheme seems meaningless: What’s the real difference between ‘blue-green—somewhat relaxed’ and ‘amber—a little nervous or anxious?’”
“I really did it just because I know the selection committee can’t resist a good pun,” admits Columbia Heights artist Joel Fishburne of his tweed-covered entry, Harris Teater. “But it would’ve looked pretty cool.” Indeed, Fishburne’s piece earned praise from at least one committee member: “It’s a simple, witty transformation of a commonplace object. But I worry that the dry-clean-only material won’t hold up: A week on the streets and this thing will smell like a wet cairn terrier.”
According to the 2,500-word statement that accompanied PETA’s politically charged entry, Ground Beef, the work would have portrayed “a legless cow forlornly gazing at the viewer, seeming to plead, ‘I want to chew my cud in a meadow, not a slaughterhouse.’” Slated to occupy a prime location just outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the low-slung bovine was ultimately rejected because, as one DCCAH official recalls,
“thousands of Americans visit D.C. over Independence Day weekend, and we want to be sure they can still enjoy their burgers on the grill. This time, we’ll hire better lawyers.”
Moo Jersey Girl
Alas, D.C. will never get to see Lulu Solomon’s accepted entry, Moo Jersey Girl—which leaves the Bethesda-based craft artist scratching her head about what to do with the “100 pounds of pearlescent Sculpey I bought for the project.” A tribute to Sopranos character Adriana La Cerva, the big-haired bovine was, according to one member of the selection committee, “exactly what we’re looking for. And I see no better place for it than in front of the FBI Building. Grazie, Lulu!”
“Even your average white-sneaker-wearer from Topeka should be down with the dematerialization of the art object by now,” spits “conceptual sculptor” Kim Namgung. But perhaps the Washington native underestimated his hometown: His placid
Asclepias, a sprinkling of carefully gathered pollen conforming to a Jersey-barrier footprint, was rejected almost instantly. “I’d like to see anyone take a picture in front of that,” wrote one project consultant. “And it’s not very barrier-y, either.”
“The Freedom Barrier represents the essential soul, spirit, and pageantry of a modular barricade,” gushed committee member and World War II veteran Len Pierug about one accepted entry. The work was to be so heaped with wreaths, bronze eagles, and replica war medals that any suggestion of a cow would be obliterated. But no matter: “Sometimes being an American comes before being an artist,” read Buddy “Bud” Walters’ irresistible artist’s
statement. “And sometimes that means keeping the public out of public buildings in a truly beautiful way.” CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Gus D’Angelo.