Pandas Defaced, Artists Devastated
At Least 7 Statues Vandalized in D.C. Since Last Month's Unveiling
By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2004; Page B01
The attacks began almost as soon as the colorful panda sculptures took up their posts on street corners and city sidewalks.
Freedom -- a bronze-painted, teddy bear version of the statue atop the Capitol -- lost the eagle, Native American headdress and 13 stars that adorned her helmet, as well as the stars from her shield. Two colorful, prehistoric-looking birds were stolen from atop Cro-Magnon Panda. Ti-Bet Your Life, a Groucho Marx look-alike, was robbed of a pair of eyeglasses and the back part of a jacket.
At least seven of the 150 life-size statues produced for the PandaMania public art project have been vandalized since their unveiling last month, say officials with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which is running the program.
Three were defaced with graffiti. A security camera at the World Wildlife Fund headquarters in Foggy Bottom captured a young man, beer in hand, prying a piece off the For a Living Planet panda at 2 a.m. one Saturday.
"It's a shame," said Tony Gittens, executive director of the arts commission. "It's people who don't have very good intentions."
Vandals also damaged several of the Party Animals donkey and elephant statues that were displayed across the city two years ago. Similar attacks have been reported in other cities that had launched public displays of animal art.
Gittens said yesterday that the commission had not filed a formal complaint about any of the incidents that had occurred over the past three weeks, although he has called police to ask them to watch out for graffiti on the statues.
Sgt. Joe Gentile, a police spokesman, contacted Gittens yesterday after being asked about the incidents. Gentile said police would take reports about the damage and alert officers across the city.
The statues are designed to be heavy, to limit the possibility of damage, and are coated with a solution that allows graffiti to be washed off. But there is no similar protective layer to wrap around the artists' hearts.
"I thought everyone would love my bear. I thought they were so totally cool that people would really love them and not hurt any of them," said Lynda Barry-Andrews, who said she worked 16-hour days for two months to create Freedom.
The statue was installed outside McCormick and Schmick's Restaurant at 901 F St. NW on May 21, a Friday, arts commission officials said.
Barry-Andrews said she went to the restaurant May 24 to have lunch with a friend and found the detached pieces scattered on the ground. Someone had found a way to remove the three-inch drywall screws Barry-Andrews had used to hold them in place.
"I'm . . . bitter about it," Barry-Andrews said. "I'll never do anything like this again."
Freedom will be repaired, then relocated to a hotel in Woodley Park. Commission officials, noting that the original location was near several nightclubs, said they believed the statue will be safer in a quieter area.
But not all of the victimized pandas are downtown. "Bear Naked Ladies," outside the Cleveland Park branch library, has graffiti scrawled across its nose.
Alexandra J. MacMaster, project manager for the arts commission, said she plans to remove the graffiti this week. She spent three hours Saturday scrubbing graffiti off two bears at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW.
The damage captured on the World Wildlife Fund videotape appears accidental, said artist David Ciommo, who created the panda affected and has seen the tape.
It shows a young woman hugging the sculpture, while a man who is with her jabs at a piece on the base with his toe. When the piece comes loose, the woman runs. The man follows -- then returns, grabs the dislodged section, and disappears.
MacMaster said the artists are re-creating the pieces that have been removed from the bears but will wait to reinstall them until the statues are auctioned at the end of the summer.
Otherwise, MacMaster said, "it just does seem a futile exercise."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company