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The Best-Dressed Cows

As in every pageant, certain conventions apply: A perky personality and an outsize imagination can sway the judges more than mere physical beauty. The 500 or so entrants in our Best-Dressed Fiberglass Cow competition have kept their sunny demeanors through what can only be described as a rough season: Not only have they been piteously mauled by people who clearly do not live anywhere near Manhattan, they've suffered an onslaught of critical slings from commentators who assume that just because certain PR people describe them as "art cows," these beasts have something to do with art.

They do not. Once you realize that the cows have about as much relationship with art as The Art of the Deal does, you can appreciate them on their own terms: a herd of whimsical immigrants, a little lost in a scary town, who tend to congregate in parts of the city—South Street Seaport, Central Park—where they know they'll receive a halfway decent reception. With the deck so heavily stacked against them, it's surprising that the poor things bothered to dress up and show their horns at all. But they did, allowing us to inflict perhaps the final indignity: a compulsory beauty pageant.

Visiting 500 fiberglass cows is not easy, and unfortunately, some of the most compelling runners-up were ineligible for our best-dressed list. The dazzling shrub-cow in Jefferson Market's garden, a character who has more than a little in common with that other summer 2000 favorite, Jeff Koons's puppy, had to be disqualified for reasons of limited accessibility: The bushy bovine is barely visible behind the park's locked gates. Still other would-be entrants were taken out of competition on account of their being tucked away, in various states of dishabille, in the cow barn, a refuge for livestock in a former bank building at 230 Park Avenue where wounded and neurasthenic animals loll. (The cow barn is open to the public, and offers, in addition to about 60 cows, a glimpse of workers blow-torching ears and horns.) Had they been a little less fragile, the Fairy Cow, in a tutu that makes her resemble a member of the Trockadero company, and the Bovine Bricoleur, encrusted with cake-top figurines, plastic forks, and shells, surely would have been serious contenders.

And the winners are:


FRIDA STARE AND GINGER RHINESTONE: The undisputed stars of the parade pirouette outside the Plaza Hotel in sequined slippers, glittery tango dresses, saucy chapeaus, and fishnet udder-hugging hose, breathless with bovine bliss at finding themselves on hoof-point in the most powerful city on earth.

WAITING FOR MR. GOODCOW: With a wistful, world-weary expression belying the optimism of her outfit—big hat, pearl bracelet, polka-dot hind-bow—this barfly leans on a table outside 230 Park Avenue from dusk until dawn, waiting for one of the city's 500 other fiberglass cows to amble over and ask for her phone number. (Her champagne bottle and flute, dislodged from their posts, now languish in the cow barn.)

THE TWIN COWERS: From across the World Trade Center, the heads and hoofs of these regal beasts seem to float in midair, their building-bodies blending seamlessly with the edifice they stand in front of. One sports an antenna like the skyscraper he (she?) emulates; both wear the gruff visages you would expect from architectural behemoths.

THE EARLY SHOW: Unlike other entrants—the embarrassed Mooters Girl in a tight T-shirt outside the Hooters on 56th Street, the Moockette wearing a tight chin-strapped bellhop's cap next to the Penn Hotel—the Early Show cow, chic and comfortable in flouncy kimono and four fuzzy mules, apologizes to no one as she settles down to a bagel and schmear outside the CBS studio at 787 Fifth Avenue.

 
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