Since 2007 Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s floating, inflatable sculpture “Rubber Duck” has been migrating all over the world, with versions in sizes ranging from 16 to 50 feet in height touching down in São Paulo, Auckland, Osaka, and other cities. The tallest version to date, at over 54 feet, thrilled millions during its stop in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor in May and June of this year.
Now two cities in Taiwan are rushing to land the largest version of “Rubber Duck” to date. The island’s southern municipality of Kaohsiung plans to debut a 59-foot-tall rendering of Hofman’s playful inflatable in September for a month-long run. Meanwhile the northern city of Keelung, which abuts Taipei, has also secured a 59-foot version of the waterborne sculpture that is due to go on permanent display in the city’s port in mid-December. Taiwanese officials are trying to duck a controversy.
“I don’t want to compare Keelung with other cities,” Huang Jing-tai, the city council speaker for Keelung, told the AFP. “The yellow duck represents welfare, happiness and peace. By introducing it to the city, I hope it can bring our citizens the feeling of happiness.”
With the “Rubber Duck” slated to make its U.S. debut next month when a 54-foot version plops down in Pittsburgh on September 27, ARTINFO takes a look back at the lovable bobble’s tumultuous history.
During its run in the Belgian city of Hasselt in 2009, a 40-foot-tall version of “Rubber Duck” was stabbed by locals 42 times.
Shortly after going on view in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, Hofman’s sculpture sprang a leak, deflating into an oil slick-like puddle of yellow on May 15. The bright bird was out of commission for five days, returning to service on May 20. In contrast to its misadventures in Belgium, the Hong Kong collapse was blamed on high winds and waves.
During the sculpture’s tenure in Hong Kong, it achieved such popularity that cheap knock-offs of varying sizes began appearing throughout China, and some were even available for purchase online — $600 dollars for a 10-foot version, $24,500 for a monstrous, 65-foot-tall replica.
Property developers in mainland China also took to placing unauthorized replicas of Hofman’s sculpture on the front lawns of homes they were trying to sell. The Chinese government came down hard on the opportunistic realtors, and an editorial in the People’s Daily — the official paper of China’s Communist Party — accused them of trying to “ruin our creativity and our future and lead to the loss of imagination eventually.”
On June 4, as China marked the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, a version of the iconic “Tank Man” photograph taken by Jeff Widener, with four giant ducks substituted for its tanks, was posted to Weibo — the Chinese equivalent of Twitter — and quickly went viral. Sensing the possible beginnings of an uprising, the Chinese government banned all social media searches of the phrases “June 4,” “Tiananmen Square,” and “big yellow duck.” (Hofman’s sculpture is due to go on view in Beijing in September.)
The Taiwanese cities of Kaohsiung and Keelung are caught in a game of one-upmanship as each touts the largest version to date of Hofman’s adorable sculpture. While Kaohsiung will get its version first — in September — that will only be on view for a month. Residents of Keelung will have to wait until mid-December for their “Rubber Duck” to arrive, but it is slated to become a permanent public artwork for the harbor city.
U.S. waterfowl-watchers can catch their first glimpse of “Rubber Duck” when it goes on view for several weeks under Pittsburgh’s Sixth Street Bridge as part of the International Festival of Firsts on September 27.