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Cow Parade Returns to N.Y.C!

A public art exhibition with 78 fiberglass cows in the boroughs may be scaled down from 21 years ago, but the herd is delighting passers-by.

Twenty-one years ago, about 500 fiberglass cows — decorated by artists, celebrities and schoolchildren — were placed across New York City. The vibrantly colorful cows grazed in parks and on sidewalks, where tourists snapped photos, children clamored to climb up on them and thieves plotted attention-getting heists.

Now, though, the cows are less like a wild herd drumming up chaos across the five boroughs and more like an elite pack of pampered show cows being trotted out at the county fair.

Last week, 78 fiberglass cows were settled in eight locations in the city, mostly where they can be watched by security guards or cameras. At Hudson Yards, 22 cows stand inside and outside the luxury shopping mall, posing under the escalators or looking out a glass balcony toward Kate Spade and Coach (where handbags made of their skin can fetch hundreds of dollars).

The company in charge of the public art exhibition, CowParade, did not want a repeat of the events of 2000, when cows were defaced with graffiti, had their ears cut off or disappeared from their podiums. (In one case, two young men were in the process of loading a painted cow into their Jeep on West Houston Street when the police arrived.)

“That event was one hell of a learning experience for us,” said Jerome Elbaum, the founder of CowParade, who is now 81. “We were very naïve in those days.”

In 1998, Elbaum was a lawyer living in West Hartford, Conn., with no involvement in the art world, when he stumbled upon a couple of fiberglass cows at a hotel on a business trip to Zurich. Elbaum was enamored with the cows, and so was a Chicago businessman he knew, Peter Hanig, who was eager to bring the idea back to his city.

Elbaum helped bring the concept to the Midwest, and he started to hear from people in New York who wanted their own herd. The idea had the enthusiastic support of the mayor, Rudy Giuliani, who held a public event alongside a cow painted to look like a yellow cab. The project attracted a slew of corporate sponsors (including The New York Times) and, at auction time, a parade of eager buyers whose money would go to charities.

Excerpt taken from this original article in The New York Times