The cows are finally coming home – if the price is right, that is. The bedecked and bejeweled fiberglass bovines of this year’s international CowParade were hauled from their various poses on San José’s streets and onto the auction blocks in the National Auditorium last week as entrepreneurs and art lovers lined up to make their bids. Most of the 29 cows sold went to local business owners as the cows’ creators looked on, struggling to let go of their babies.
The CowParade, which calls itself “the world’s largest public art event,” came to San José in March, as 120 local artists had a month to mold and paint cows that were then displayed throughout the city (TT, March 14).
San José is the event’s first Central American venue among dozens of international cities.
Potential bidders wandered around before the auction, gazing at the dozens of inanimate cows sitting patiently behind ropes that resembled a farm fence. San José’s finest, clutching auction paddles in the shape of cows, gazed intently at the statues before discreetly marking down their favorites on small pieces of paper. Some put in secret bids before the auction began.
Robert Faulstich, owner of San José’s Tin Jo restaurant, said he wanted to snag a cow to spice up his Asian-cuisine eatery.
“We’re in the heart of downtown San José, and I see it as identifying ourselves with this cause, which is kind of cool and artsy,” he said. “We’re going to adopt it as our mascot.”
Faulstich pointed to a green, leafy cow representing the beauty of Costa Rica’s natural landscape in the “cowtalog” as the one he wanted.
Another businessman, Mario Castillo of BAC financial group, sought a similar-looking cow for the banking institution.
“It’s discreet. It’s about nature,” he said, pointing to a cow titled “Daring Kisses,” by John Juric and Maricarmen Salazar, with a base price of $3,500.
Some bidders came for themselves, seeking a cow of their very own.
“I have seen them in many cities. I’d just like to have them,” said Arthur Buovsky, originally from New York. He said he had his heart set on “Cow in Love,” by Costa Rican artist Blanca Ruiz Fontanarrosa, for the living room of his San José home. Buovsky already collects the miniature cows that are sold as mementos from other CowParades, but wants his own life-size cow.
“I want something big,” he said. “Something I can touch.”
Meanwhile, the artists at the auction wondered where their creations would end up. A mother and daughter team, Flor Vega and María Lourdes Mora, paced the auction floor together.
“It was a beautiful experience, very enriching,” said Vega, 65, a painter for 34 years. “We painted (our cows) at the same time. It took a month.”
Featuring a Costa Rican mountain landscape, Vega’s cow will not be auctioned until October, when the remaining cows will be put up for sale. Mora, a photographer and graphic designer, had a cow being auctioned that evening. Her work, entitled “Coffee-Scented Cow,” was inspired by the mix of the cow’s and Costa Rica’s principal products: milk and coffee. Mora said she would love to see her cow end up in a public space where people could still see it.
Carlos Alvarez, 36, crafted his cow as an homage to neoplasticist Piet Mondrian. It will be auctioned off in October. Alvarez, who is from Cartago, east of San José, said he loved the participatory nature of the CowParade.
“Sometimes people think the city streets don’t belong to anybody,” he said, adding that the cow parade helped people reclaim the streets of San José.
Alvarez’s cow in particular invited participation. He said children would run their fingers through the black and white curves painted on the cow as if it were a labyrinth.
Alvarez has found that it can be difficult to let go of one’s pets, even those made of fiberglass.
“I hope someone buys it who likes it and who can appreciate its enigmatic sense,” he said.
The artists received stipends of $500 for their monthlong work, and were provided the cows for free.
San José Mayor Johnny Araya began the auction by extolling the success of the event in revitalizing the city.
“The CowParade has helped us more than we can imagine,” he said. “San José will forever remember this very important event.”
By the end of the night, 29 cows were sold for a total of $109,500, 70 percent of which will go to charity. In comparison, the 2000 CowParade in New York raised almost $1.4 million, with the priciest cow going for $65,000; at this first San José auction, the priciest cow went for $7,500. About 60 more Costa Rican cows remain to be auctioned off in October. The unsold cows will be taken to public exhibits around the country.
The funds raised will go to Hogares Crea, a treatment center for drug addicts, Asociación Obras del Espíritu Santo, which aids the poor in San José, the youth organization Funda-Vida, and the National Children’s Hospital.
The second San José CowParade auction will take place Oct. 1 at Multiplaza mall in the western suburb of Escazú. The time is tentatively scheduled for 3:30 p.m.; for confirmation and more details, keep an eye on www.gpovallas.com/cowparade.