Cowparades

There are fifty Paddington Bear statues currently scattered around London. I saw one, was curious, then realised it’s to promote an upcoming film.

Also around are a series of painted Routemaster bus sculptures.

Before the bears and the buses, this summer there were 50 book-shaped benches, each one was painted to depict a different book.

This is a thing that cities do now. A series of identical sculptures, each one painted by a different artist, located in the public realm around a city. Promoted as a trail, selfie-friendly, and possibly with a charity auction at the end offering the chance to own one.

Other cities have gotten in on the meme. Bristol had its Gromits, and before then its gorillas. Newport has dragons. Kingston upon Hull has Larkin-inspired toads.

No major sporting event can now be without them. At the Commonwealth Games there was Clyde the thistle, and London 2012 had Wenlock and Mandeville.

I looked into the history a bit, and as far as I can tell it was the CowParade which really popularised the idea, having started in Zurich in 1998 as part of an art festival, with the cows then travelling to dozens of cities over the course of a decade. That in itself seems to have been based on an earlier Lion parade in the same city back in 1986, according to Wikipedia, although I can't find any references to this.

No doubt these sculpture have become part of the arsenal of events that tourist boards and marketing agencies can deploy.

I like them. They’re human-scale massive happy things. They’re a game (spot them all!) and also a casual fun intrusion upon your daily wanderings. Art for everyone.

That said, let’s not have too many. Especially not for movie premieres. One or two per city per year is plenty.

My favourite are the superlambananas in Liverpool. Designed by a Japanese artist, it crosses a sheep and a banana as commentary on both Liverpool’s trading history and "the dangers of genetic engineering". Originally there was just one massive yellow one. The city loved it so much, they multiplied for 2008 Capital of Culture, and since then a dozen or so are on permanent display.

The superlambanana is an now icon for Liverpool to rival the Liver bird (indeed minatures of both are sold side-by-side in local gift shops).

Cities and art. Hard to do right – but sometimes all you need is brightly painted fibreglass.