D.C. Panda Invasion Starts at the Zoo
By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2004; Page C01
You'd think Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, Washington's celebrated and famously non-reproducing pandas, would get the hint yesterday when 18 panda sculptures were unveiled before their eyes at the National Zoo.
"We hope this will give them some ideas in multiplication," said Dorothy McSweeny, chairman of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which is sponsoring the "PandaMania" project placing 150 decorated pandas throughout the city.
Unfortunately the duo seemed blissfully ignorant of the sculptures (and each other, for that matter) as they chomped away on a breakfast of bamboo branches during the morning ceremony.
"We need to get some soft lighting. Maybe we need to figure out what kind of wines they like," Mayor Anthony Williams, who attended the ceremony, offered as an idea to ratchet up the romance level between the two. "Get some Barry White going on, maybe that'll help."
It's been four years since Mei Xiang and Tian Tian arrived from China, and there are no offspring to show off. But "PandaMania" kicks into high gear this week, populating the city with panda sculptures, which will remain on the streets of Washington throughout the summer. The project is a sequel to the commission's "Party Animals" of 2002, in which whimsically decorated elephants and donkeys, symbols of the two major political parties, were displayed throughout town.
As with "Party Animals," the sculptures will be auctioned off in the fall to raise money for arts programs in the city.
This year, the commission received designs from more than 1,200 applicants from across the globe including submissions from Brazil, Colombia, France and China.
The commission's executive director, Tony Gittens, predicted an overwhelming and perhaps unrealistic response from Washingtonians when the pandas arrive. "People will be friendlier, I promise it," Gittens said yesterday. "People will walk with more bounce in their step. They'll be amused, entertained and inspired.
"You'll stop in front of one these funny little animals with your co-worker . . . and engage in wonderful, whimsical, analytical, critical conversation about art."
Inspiration for some of the sculptures unveiled yesterday included a magazine cover and litter collected in a Washington neighborhood.
Local artist Margaret Finch was inspired to create "Pandy Warhol" after seeing the artist's mug on a recent issue of Washingtonian. Her panda comes complete with Warhol's white mop of hair and includes a Marilyn Monroe silkscreen on its back.
Chuck Baxter's sculpture, "The Flotsam of Play," features a panda decorated with old toy cars, broken combs, bottle caps and other discarded items he collected over the past 10 years during his daily trash pickups at a playground across the street from his house. "When this project came, I said, 'Maybe I can get rid of lots of this stuff,' and . . . this is what came of it."
Not all the sculptures came about so whimsically.
David Ciommo, a graphic designer for the World Wildlife Fund, said creating a sculpture for his organization, known for its panda logo, was "a natural fit." His design features the Earth superimposed on the panda as a puzzle with two pieces missing.
"The missing pieces symbolize the conservation work that still needs to be done," Ciommo said. "It's the concept of putting the puzzle back together in order to make this a happier, healthier planet."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
(Robert A. Reeder - The Washington Post)
Graphic: Interactive Panda Map
Video: Painted Pandas Go Public
Pandas Defaced, Artists Devastated (The Washington Post, Jun 15, 2004)
Getting Cute With Art (The Washington Post, May 30, 2004)
PandaMania (Live Online, May 11, 2004)
Painting the Town Red -- And Yellow (The Washington Post, May 11, 2004)
Bamboo Brigade (The Washington Post, Apr 18, 2004)