New Batch of Public Art Will Be Black and White and, Soon, All Over
By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 18, 2004; Page C01
Cherry trees, in full bloom, are painted on one panda statue, an exultant young girl reaching for the pink petals on the bear's front and back. Another statue, titled "Will You Miss Us?" is half-covered with portraits of endangered species -- including, on the head, a black-and-white panda munching bamboo.
"Patchwork Panda" features eye patches of crocheted copper wire, with nose, ears, arms and feet to match. A quilt of recycled aluminum patches is slowly being stitched together to cover the rest of its rounded body.
About 65 of these works in progress, the next fad aimed at the Washington area, are being painted and sculpted in a vacant office building on the Southwest waterfront, scattered among office suites and a cavernous space that once held standard-issue cubicles.
An additional 85 of the polyurethane statues will be decorated by artists in their studios across the country and shipped back to Washington in time for a public unveiling May 10.
The brightly colored statues will then be displayed on sidewalks and plazas across the city, just like the Party Animals -- elephants and donkeys that were all the rage here two years ago.
In the former offices of the Environmental Protection Agency at the Waterside Mall, "it's just starting to look so colorful," said artist Carien Quiroga of Kensington, creator of "Patchwork Panda," which she said represents regeneration and healing. "People are at all different stages of work. [The pandas] all have their own personalities, from whimsical ones to really powerful ones to just visually beautiful ones."
"Panda Mania" is a project of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which also ran the Party Animals effort -- using animal mascots of the Republican and Democratic parties -- in 2002. This time, project manager Alexandra MacMaster said, the commission decided to feature the lovable-looking animals that have long been the stars of the National Zoo.
Mass public art displays involving animal statues seem to have begun in 1998 in Zurich, with a citywide exhibit of decorated cows. A Chicago businessman who saw those bovines while on vacation brought the idea back to his home town the next year. New York City also has displayed cows and, separately, dogs. Seattle and Cincinnati organized exhibits around pigs. Baltimore, home of that other, bigger National Aquarium, had fish. Tampa had turtles. This summer, Calvert County will display giant sea horses painted by children as part of the community's 350th anniversary celebration.
In the District, the arts commission received about 1,400 applications to decorate one of the 150 pandas, which are posed either sitting (five feet tall when mounted on a concrete base) or standing (six feet including the base), MacMaster said.
Most of the 150 applicants chosen are professional artists, MacMaster said. But the winners also included groups from several schools and a youth arts group: Bell Multicultural High School, Janney Elementary, the Maret School, Washington International School and Kids Power DC Inc., all in the District; Hunter Woods Elementary School for Arts and Science in Reston; and Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts in Baltimore.
The youngest individual artist chosen was 13-year-old Claire Kuang of Columbia, who is using bright orange, red and yellow to decorate her panda. It is one of at least two statues that will have a Chinese dragon theme, a tribute to the panda's native country.
The artists are supposed to complete their statues by May 1, MacMaster said, and work has been started on all but eight. Each finished panda will be protected with three coats of gloss -- one to resist graffiti, one to prevent fading from sun exposure and one to make it waterproof, she said.
The statues will be installed in May outside hotels, restaurants, museums, embassies, Metro stations and other highly trafficked areas of the city, where they will be on display until they are auctioned off in September to raise money for art grants and education programs. An auction of the 200 Party Animals sculptures raised $1 million.
Washington artist Jeannette Murphy said she was pleasantly surprised by the diverse selection of artists chosen for the Party Animals project, which she had assumed would be reserved for big-name painters and sculptors.
"I kicked myself" for not submitting a proposal in 2002, said Murphy, whose panda project showcases endangered species. "So when I saw this new one, I rushed to get an application."
Bridget Parris, a New York-based painter, said she was drawn to the project as a way to bring art into public spaces. "It really brings a lot of people out to see artwork who might not go to a museum or a gallery," she said.
Parris spent eight to 10 hours a day over 10 days in early April creating her gold-and-pink "Cherry Blossom" panda. She has since returned to New York. But her panda stands sentry in Southwest Washington, watching its peers as they are transformed.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Micaela Quiroga, 8, hugs the panda her mother, Carien Quiroga, is working on: "Patchwork Panda."
(Photos Bill O'leary -- 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)
D.C. Panda Invasion Starts at the Zoo (The Washington Post, May 11, 2004)
Painting the Town Red -- And Yellow (The Washington Post, May 11, 2004)