Police are investigating after the famous concrete cows in the city of Milton Keynes were given a pre-Halloween makeover and turned into skeletons.
Thames Valley Police has confirmed it is treating the incident as criminal damage after the world-renowned statues were given a new skeletal look.
The Parks Trust, which maintains the cows in a field on the outskirts of the city, says the herd will cost around £2000 to repaint.
"Public art is an integral part of the city and park landscape and as custodians of the cows we take damage of this nature very seriously," said David Foster, chief executive of The Parks Trust.
"The cows are a part of Milton Keynes, they are a piece of public art and they should be valued by all. We will restore the cows to the artist's, Liz Leyh, original vision."
The three concrete cows and three calves were made in 1978 as a leaving present from the Milton Keynes Development Corporation.
They were sculpted from fibre-glass reinforced concrete by Canadian-born artist Liz Leyh and in the last 24 years have had a rather adventurous life.
The cows have been stolen and held to ransom, had pyjamas painted on them, been covered in BSE graffiti, placed in compromising positions and even been rebuilt after they were beheaded.
A spokesman for The Parks Trust added: "Whilst the cows are very well-loved, they do, occasionally, attract the wrong sort of attention and have over the years been re-painted, graffitied, dressed up and physically damaged.
"We actively encourage people into the parks to visit all our artworks - but request that they respect them so that everyone can enjoy them.
"The Parks Trust, is a self-financing charity, and the costs of repair and repainting the cows, which could be up to £2,000 is money that would otherwise be spent on maintaining the parks for everyone in Milton Keynes."
But the Trust has decided to leave the repainting until after Halloween as they have been inundated with more than 300 responses residents on Facebook saying they like the new design.
"I think it's absolutely awesome and adds character to the cows," said Sarah Holmes, 28, from Milton Keynes.
"We were really surprised when we saw the cows had been given a makeover but someone has done a really good job of painting them and I'm glad they will stay that way for a while."
A spokesman for Thames Valley police said they were treating the painting as criminal damage.
He added: "The Neighbourhood Policing Team is investigating."
COMMENT - Alice Vincent
"It's not something I'm always proud to admit, but my hometown is Milton Keynes, the 45-year-old concrete jungle known throughout the country for its roundabouts and labyrinthine grid system. And concrete cows.
The Cows are a sculpture work by Canadian artist Liz Leyh. The three cows and their three calves have been a bit of a lovable running joke since their installation in 1978, the product of an initiative to bring art to MK's nubile community. They've inspired the name of the home supporters stand at Milton Keynes Football Club (The Cowshed), as well as their mascots.
And yet, despite this, and their awkward, roadside placement, (although the original cows were moved temporarily to the city's shopping centre in the early noughties) public adjustments to the Cows are nothing new.
There was the episode where the cows were painted pink, had a foray into imitating zebras, gained pajama bottoms and lost heads and suffered from BSE-related grafitti with varying degrees of impact and severity. After the beheading incident (inspired, no less, by Damien Hirst), Leyh had to rebuild the bovine artwork.
And yet, the Cows remain - still key to MK's identity, even three decades after the city's expanded and gained a theatre district, a gallery and a well-recognised arts festival. Not to mention dozens of other public arts which pepper the landscape almost as much as its roundabouts and warehouses.
As a one-time reluctant local, I think it's quite endearing that the Cows remain at the heart of public stunts. In comparison to the bigger issues which pervade the city, not to mention far less imaginary graffiti in the city's featureless subways, painting an artful skeleton on the cows - which were a pretty playful installation in the first place - shows that they're remaining part of MK's ever-growing community.
Yes, I imagine the two grand will be stumped up and the concrete creatures will be repainted. And in a few years' time, maybe they'll gain spacesuits, or cowboy hats, or be at the centre of another small political statement. But as a work created for the public, shouldn't they inspire the public imagination once in a while?"
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