Midway between the White House and the Washington Monument, a line of tubby sculptures newly plumped down along Constitution Avenue seems as happily inflated as the cartoon balloons in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade -- every bit as charming, just as much fun, but a whole lot more ironic, puncturing people puffed up with inert gases and hot air.
Strolling among them at the entrance to the Ellipse, Jean Talbert, 39, looks up. Twelve feet of bloated bronze manhood looms before her. Across the street is his buxom mate, just as tall and wide. But where the man is all pumped-up chest, the woman stands on thick legs and thunderous thighs.
"Bill and Hillary?" Talbert muses.
Well, the figures do frame the vista to the White House. The South Portico is dead ahead across the Zero Milestone.
But that can't be Bill. He's got a dapper mustache like a retro dandy in a Guess ad. And she's got longer hair than Hillary.
No, it's an even more monumental couple, Adam and Eve, as imagined by Colombian artist Fernando Botero. They are two of 19 outsized Botero sculptures warming themselves this sunny day under Washington's elms, and making Talbert feel good.
"No anorexia here," she quips. "They make you feel so happy. They make you feel so thin. I'm going to go right back and eat a big lunch."
From Adam and Eve, these bulbous Boteros stretch out more or less symmetrically to 15th Street and to the 18th Street garden of the somewhat redundantly named Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States, which brought the exhibit to Washington in celebration of its 20th anniversary. They'll be here until Nov. 1.
These works are well-traveled and well-liked. They've stopped traffic on Park Avenue in New York, pleased Parisians on the Champs Elysees, bemused Madrilenos along the Paseo de Recoletos and even been held over in Beverly Hills by Angelenos.
Fernando Botero, a native of Medellin, Colombia, now 64, is simply Latin America's most famous living artist, and no doubt its weightiest. Adam alone is said to weigh more than a ton. Eve, too.
A painter virtually since his teens, Botero studied art in Madrid and Florence, and Old Masters virtually everywhere. He produced his first "puffed-up" painting in Mexico in 1956, his first bloated sculpture in New York in 1973.
"I look for a calmness of forms and a sensation of volume," he says in the catalog to this exhibit. He strives for smoothness and power in his art, both as a painter and sculptor.
Unlikely, not unrealistic
"I do not want it to be unrealistic," he says. "I just want it to be unlikely."
Strollers along Constitution Avenue certainly find the works a bit unlikely here in Washington, but nonetheless right at home among the elms on the edge of the Ellipse. They're attracting bureaucrats on lunch break, bemused tourists just wandering by, the inevitable military joggers, lots of photographers, young families posing their babies for lots of photographers, and hometown Washingtonians determined to see the latest capital sensation.
"It's perfect in this setting," says Harriet Mersky, a local art lover perusing the Boteros with her friend, Dorothy Cohn. "They'd be overwhelming in one of our galleries," she says. "Being chubby and out of proportion."
"He has quite an imagination," Cohn says. "He likes cheeks, doesn't he?"
Many of Botero's female torsos are vastly billowing behind.
In front of the dark male "Torso," which rises massively about 20 feet from grass to truncated neck, Bettina Musiol, 33, a visitor from Germany, says: "I don't see why the men have a fig leaf."
The fig leaf
Probably it's a sly joke. "Adam" doesn't wear one, nor does the "Roman Soldier" down the line. The huge "Torso Masculino," all abs and pecs as developed as a jailhouse weight-lifter's, is no doubt Botero's parody of an armored Roman emperor or Renaissance condottiere or perhaps Darth Vader -- the fig leaf a small, cute punch line.
"Perhaps he has some trouble with sexuality," says Bettina's sister-in-law, Kornelia Musiol, 42. "Because the women all have small breasts and the behinds are big and powerful."
Reduhn, 36, Bettina's husband, leaves that one alone. He likes Botero's animals: "They are interesting and lustig." Which means he thinks they are funny.
There are three animals in the exhibit -- "Little Bird," "Cat" and "Horse -- or five if you include the horse under "Man on a Horse" and the bull under Europa in "The Rape of -- ."
Little Bird is a big bird indeed, 8 feet tall, 10 feet long, a bulbous sparrow too heavy to fly. "Horse" could match any Budweiser Clydesdale in pound-for-pound big-leg power. The 2,500-pound "Cat" appears here without his whiskers. They were stolen in Fort Lauderdale.
Europa poses on the bull like a Hollywood starlet preening for photographers. The bull is happy and smiling, perhaps smirking.
"That's the whole point of the thing," says Howard Bell, 79, of McLean, Va. (Presumably. You could look up Greek myths in your library.)