Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock, perhaps better known as the 14-foot-high giant blue rooster, has been atop the National Gallery of Art’s East Building since 2016. Now, on the 80th anniversary of the gallery’s dedication, the Glenstone Museum has donated Hahn/Cock, which will become part of the National Gallery’s permanent collection.
Both the National Gallery’s East and West buildings remain closed due to Covid restrictions, so the museum will illuminate Hahn/Cock on its sculpture terrace nightly, beginning Wednesday.
In a statement, Mitchell P. Rales, the local billionaire who is president of the National Gallery and cofounder of Glenstone, and Emily Wei Rales, Glenstone’s director, said, “Americans have endured unimaginable loss and hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. We chose to give this very special sculpture to the American people in their honor and as a symbol of the hope and renewal on the horizon.”
Hahn/Cock has an appropriately colorful history. Fritsch’s sculpture debuted in Trafalgar Square in 2013 to headlines like “Big blue cock erected” from a giddy British press. Hahn enjoys a similar twin meaning in German as it does in English, and Fritsch described it as a “feminist sculpture” in the heart of a public space dominated by sculptures of men. Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London, noted the blue cock is a symbol of French sport, and triumphantly declared, “We have mounted this French cock at the heart of our imperial square.” In January 2017, the art critic Blake Gopnik made the case that the sculpture had transformed into a symbol of DC’s resistance to Donald Trump:
As it looks out over the city, Fritsch’s creature now seems on guard. I imagine it coming to life to sound the alarm if our nation and values look set to collapse. For Washingtonians, at least, a blue that might once have evoked summer evenings or the art of Yves Klein now stands for a full-fledged state of depression.
With spring in the air, as well as hope that vaccines might finally thwart the doldrums of 2020, the big blue rooster is being called upon to transform the city’s landscape again.