Fiberglass cows are inpiration for equine art in Austria

VIENNA, Austria -- Vienna's famed Lipizzaner stallions are known for their elegant trotting and sprightly dancing. But the horses standing outside the Hofburg Palace on Tuesday didn't budge, and one was bright pink.

Inspired by the goofy fiberglass cows that have popped up in New York, Chicago and other cities, a herd of life-size, gaily painted Lipizzaner figures is bringing some art and whimsy to the staid streets of the Austrian capital.

"We saw the life-size model cows that have been displayed on the streets of Swiss and American cities and wanted to do something similar here," said Georg Suchanek, a public relations specialist who came up with the idea along with colleague Matthias Wachal.

Neither Suchanek, 30, nor Wachal, 32, can actually ride a horse, let alone make one dance.

But the Lipizzaners, which have entertained the Viennese and visitors to the city's renowned Spanish Riding School for more than 400 years, seemed like an ideal form for bringing art to street level.

The horses have come to symbolize this city known for its elegance and quiet sense of style. Throngs of tourists line up daily to watch the immaculately groomed stallions rear, jump and even waltz to the mere flick of a rein from the expert riders in coats and tails astride them.

"Everyone thinks of the Lipizzaner horses when they think of Vienna," Suchanek said. "We went to see the head of the Riding School, and he really liked the idea."

Most of the model horses have been sold to local people and businesses, who in turn hired an artist to paint them. For every horse sold, the Riding School receives $113.

In the coming weeks, more than 100 Lipizzaners will be on display around the capital.

Already, a horse dubbed "Don Banco" -- owned by an Austrian bank and painted in glittering gold -- is frozen in silent prance next to Vienna's landmark St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Farther down the street, there's "Gustav," intricately decorated in delicate jewel-like patterns by a local jeweler to honor Austrian painter Gustav Klimt.

The bright pink horse outside the palace is sponsored by a charity promoting breast cancer screening for women.

The project has given talented new artists a chance to show off their skills.

"It's a great chance for younger artists to reach a wider public," said Kolja Kramer, whose agency for up-and-coming artists supplied some of the horse painters. "They finally get to come out of their studios and onto the streets."

Not all the horses have been painted by professionals. Near the palace, schoolchildren covered one horse with paintings of picture-book houses, pointy-eared dogs and grass in a somewhat startling shade of green.

Organizers have even invited local graffiti artists to spray their stuff by placing a couple of plain white horses in their favorite haunts.

"We hope they will show off what they can do, and leave the other horses alone," Wachal said.

Not everyone is impressed by the equestrian takeover of the city.

"It's all about entertaining the tourists and has no serious artistic content," grumbled painter Michael Horfky, 29. "It's pure commercialization of our traditions and promotes a bad, kitsch image of Vienna."

But Suchanek and Wachel aren't put off. In fact, in the tradition of the cows, they're already plotting ways to take their show on the road.

"Next year, we want to take our Lipizzaner project to America and Japan," Suchanek said.