Cow Parade

The CowParade Experience
(Originally appeared on

by Norm Magnusson  
The rift between what the art world thinks is cool and what the rest of the world thinks is cool has always amazed me. I have had shows in museums and galleries across the world, and people think that’s nice, but if a painting of mine is used as a cd cover, well, that’s really impressive.

So it went this summer with the Cow Parade; no other art project or art event I’ve ever been involved in has so impressed the people around me. Go figure. Here’s how it happened:
When my gallery forwarded me the call for entries, it was irresistible. Four to five hundred New York artists were going to decorate life-sized fiberglass cows which would then be placed all around the city during the coming summer. Each cow I painted would get me $2,000 and be sold to a corporate "sponsor" for $7500. A nice little business proposition for the CowParade company, but irresistible nonetheless.
I had loads of ideas on how to do a cow: the cash cow, painted to look like a bundle of U.S. currency; the Sacred cow, complete with halo, with the continents of the earth slightly visible in its markings; the "Moomaid," a mermaid cow; the Dadaist cow painted to look like a zebra; the Damien Hirst cow (of course) sliced down the middle and placed in two large vitrines; and finally, the pull-toy cow, painted with wood grain and with wheels attached to each foot, made to look like a child's wooden pull toy, my lawyer wife's idea.

In all, I submitted 9 ideas, sort of hoping and sort of fearful that the CowParade people would choose them all. They didn't. When the call came, only the pull-toy cow had been selected. Relief and chagrin. Anyway, I was happy to be involved, and when the truck pulled up to my studio in the meat packing district to drop off my cow, I was amused and eager to start painting.

The life sized fiberglass cow was already primed and ready to go. The CowParade people recommended Lascaux acrylics and an impossible to find varnish and had to be informed of any changes made to the cow versus my submitted design. In the end, the entire process went off without a hitch: the cow came, my assistant Molley and I painted it, the cow went away. Its home here in Gotham was on the Riverside Park Promenade around 83rd street, where it sat all summer with 3 of its bovine brethren. When we trekked up to see it, a wedding photographer was snapping a groom and his brave bride in front of all of the painted cows.

Now, here’s the exciting part: the auction. Of the 500 or so cows in the parade, “Pull Toy” was chosen as one of the 74 cows to be auctioned off in a gala evening live auction hosted by Phillips Auctioneers. The night started with cocktails in the Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central Terminal and progressed across the street for the auction itself at Cipriani’s, a massive renovated bank building. After a brief introduction by Mayor Giuliani, who auctioned off the first cow, the main event proceeded in a mostly orderly way through 53 other cows until they got to mine.
The bidding started at $5,000 and quickly went up. 6, 7, 8, 10 thousand dollars, 12 thousand, 14, 15 thousand. Eee-gads. $16,000. going once, going twice, SOLD at $16,000. Wow. $16,000. My initial thrill gave way immediately to my recollection that I don’t get to keep any of the money because it’s all going to various charities such as Citymeals on Wheels and Gods Love We Deliver and the City Parks Foundation. But still, $16,000. Most of my painting sales average around $5,000, so this was lots of fun. I read the next day that the live auction average was about $18,000 per cow and that night alone had raised 1 and a half million for the 6 charities involved. The rest of the cows were auctioned off on where they went for between $3,200 and $42,000 dollars.

And that’s it, I guess, the end of the story. My check for $2,000 is supposed to be coming soon now and my cow is living, I guess, in it’s new permanent home in the outdoor space of some building on the upper east side of Manhattan. It was a group of cutely energetic women who were the winning bidders on “Pull Toy” and right after they got it, I went over and talked to them. They were thrilled to meet me and asked me to sign their programs. I gave them my address and asked them invite me to the inauguration of their uptown pasture, suspecting that it would be a long time before this humble artist would ever again be involved with something so popular as painting a fiberglass cow. Go figure.

For more information on CowParade 2000, go to


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