San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Waiting for the Cows To Come Home

On a quiet square in the center of San José, everything seems as it should be. Couples are chatting idly on benches. Office workers are hurrying back from lunch. In one corner, an attractive red façade announces itself as an art gallery.

A wrought-iron grill, like a cage, covers the entrance. In the middle of the urban jungle, a cow stares out through the bars.

It is “La Vaca Volcánica” (“The Volcanic Cow”), a work being crafted by artist Jorge Duarte ahead of the inauguration of CowParade San José March 27. With time running out, preparations are in full swing.

With its origins in Zurich, and having been held in cities such as London, New York, Sydney and Tokyo, the parade is “the largest public art event in the world,”

according to its official Web site, In San José, the event will see more than 120 life-sized fiberglass cows take to the streets of the capital, all in the name of culture.

Since early February, artists from around the country have been racing against the clock, given just one month in which to sculpt, mold and paint their cows.

Duarte, 52, who has been a painter for 25 years, feels privileged to be able to take part in the event.

“It is a great honor,” he said.

Sculptor Angel Lara is equally excited.

“I had always wanted to be involved with CowParade,” he said. “There were hundreds of entries, so it’s great to have the recognition of being chosen. It is a barometer for me as an artist.”

Event organizer Vallas y Gigantografías received more than 600 applications for a cow from artists. According to Mariano Morelli, general manager of Vallas y Gigantografías, an international committee chose the winning designs based on their originality and creativity.

Lara’s piece, “La Vaca del Pasado” (“The Cow of the Past”), certainly fits those criteria.

With huge, proportionate wings, the cow grazes on computer chips rather than grass.

According to Lara, the piece makes a statement about the recycling and reuse of memory and knowledge, as well as materials such as memory chips, which retain so much  information and are not recycled, and the knowledge they contain is not reused once the computer is broken.

As for the wings on the cow, Lara said, “Only the pure of heart and really virtuous people have wings – wise and knowledgeable people. But knowledge is also in computer chips.”

Organizers suggested that artists incorporate a theme that is in some way Costa Rican in their designs. Landscape painter Duarte chose as his subject matter the popular tourist attraction of active Arenal Volcano, in north-central Costa Rica. The stylized image of the volcano on such an unexpected canvas seems to give a humorous yet salient commentary on the unreality of the tourist industry. This makes it a somewhat ironic piece, as part of the attraction of the event for authorities is that it encourages tourism.

“A city without art is a city without soul,” said San José Mayor Johnny Araya when it was announced that the event would be coming to the city (TT, Nov. 23, 2007).

“As part of his political philosophy, the mayor wants people to start walking through San José again,” Morelli explained. “Cow-Parade will help, as it attracts families, tourists and passers-by.”

San José is the first city in Central America to stage the parade.

The cows will be on display for a total of four months at five spots around the city:

Avenida Central Boulevard

,Avenida 4 Boulevard, Parque Nacional,

Ricardo Jiménez Boulevard

and Parque Morazán.

Artists contacted by The Tico Times are confident the cows will be well received by the public.

“I think people are going to be amazed,” said sculptor Jeffry Gibbs, 24, who was chosen for his design “The Milk Machine.” “It is going to be something completely different; nothing like it has ever been seen in San José … Art is going to be within reach of the general public without the need for museums.”

“It is a really innovative idea, and people like innovation,” Duarte said. “I would expect this sort of thing to get a positive response and to encourage more cultural awareness.”

Aside from the impact of the event on the country’s arts scene, CowParade will also benefit good causes.After the exhibition, the cows will be auctioned off and 70% of the proceeds from the sale will go to charity.

The four beneficiary organizations chosen by the San JoséMunicipality are Hogares Crea, which provides treatment for drug addicts, Asociación Obras del Espíritu Santo, which helps the disadvantaged and socially excluded in San José, youth and children’s charity FundaVida and the National Children’s Hospital.

The event is also expected to benefit participating artists.

“There are some emerging artists for whom participating in the event will be a real kick start to their careers,” Vallas y Gigantografías’ Carlos Soto said.

The artists “will really gain in prestige,” Morelli added.

Duarte agreed.

“As well as strengthening the arts, artists will have the opportunity to stand out,” he said. “It is difficult to gain recognition as there are so many artists in Costa Rica, so this could really help. This cow could be a good legacy for me and what I am trying to do.”

However, the artists are motivated by more than personal gain. The organizers are covering the cost of constructing the cows (approximately $2,000 each), the franchise, and the safe storage, transport and display of the works. But some of the more intricate and sculpted designs will cost thousands of dollars to complete, meaning that many, if not most, of the artists are digging into their own pockets to add to the “symbolic” $500 they each received for their designs.

“I have spent about $1,700 and I still haven’t bought the stuff to paint it yet,” Lara said, adding that he spent three weeks preparing his workshop prior to receiving his cow, and has been working an average of 10 to 11 hours a day on his piece.

“They give you little time and little money,” Lara said. “The only way to do things in so little time is by spending a lot of money; otherwise to do them with very little money you need a lot of time. You are never going to be able to reconcile them.”

Nevertheless, both Lara and Gibbs are philosophical about the challenge.

“As for the issue of money and why I have spent so much, that is because of my concept more than the fact that it is for CowParade,” Lara said.

Gibbs echoed that sentiment.

“Sure I have gone over budget, but the idea was to create a great cow,” he said. Both artists said they had no problems with the time limitations.

“A piece of artwork is never really finished,” Gibbs said. “It’s just part of the deal.”

Sponsorship packages, costing $9,500 per cow, are still available. For more information, call Vallas y Gigantografías at 291-4831.


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