They Put a 65-Foot Hot Dog in Times Square, and It’s a Blast


As the sun set on a cloudy evening in Times Square on Friday, a 65-foot-long frankfurter cantilevered into the sky and spewed out a blast of rainbow confetti.

At the foot (tail?) of its bun, drag wrestlers were finishing their match in an elevated boxing ring, practically twerking on the ropes, cheered on by hundreds of spectators. It was the first public event for “Hot Dog in the City,” an installation for Times Square Arts, the largest work that the organization has ever commissioned.

The giant wiener was created by Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw, married Brooklyn artists whose métier is often interactive, food-based spectaculars that also question the lore — and lure — of Americana. When they hit upon the hot dog, a national symbol of patriotism and also an emblem of the hard-to-digest truth about mass production and labor, consumerism and marketing, it seemed like a natural match for the setting.

The hot dog, Outlaw said, “is celebratory. But it does have a sordid history and a complicated past.” With events including WrestleMania-style matches — another tangled bit of American culture, equal parts bravado and fakery — and a video series about food carts, in affiliation with the Street Vendor Project, the artists hope to capture that larger story. An opera they wrote is planned for the intimate space inside the hot dog.

There’s also an eating competition sponsored by Nathan’s, and a hot dog — as in canine — pageant. Since they met as M.F.A. students at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, Outlaw, 44, and Catron, 39, who is nine months pregnant with their second child, have prioritized fun.

I’ve always thought that Jen and Paul were a perfect match for Times Square, just from their irreverent humor to the way they play with scale,” said Jean Cooney, the director of Times Square Arts. “They definitely have a ‘go big or go home’ type of attitude.”

The couple has billed their creation as the world’s largest hot dog sculpture, although, they admit, it has not been officially sanctioned by Guinness World Records. By their estimation, it is, at least, longer than the other biggest dog they found, a 63-footer which sits on a Michigan restaurant called Wienerlicious.

The main tension, in New York, was toppings. “This has been a really, more heated conversation than I thought it would be,” Catron said. “The regional debates, Chicago vs. New York City; every single town in America, almost, claims a hot dog style.” The condiment fervor was nearly political in its zeal, Outlaw added. “Pineapple, potato chips — they’re proud of it!”

To the relief of many, they landed on only a squiggle of mustard. “I had someone tell me that if there was going to be ketchup up on it, they wouldn’t come within a hundred feet of it,” Cooney said.

On Friday, in a battle called “Condiment Wars!!” two troupes, EWA (Extreme Wrestling Alliance, a local backyard wrestling outfit) and Choke Hole, celebrated drag and queer performers from New Orleans, did their best to settle the score.

Or something. The connection between the action and the wiener was not always clear to the audience. “Wrestling is considerably less dangerous than hot dogs?” ventured Kate Foster, a set decorator, who came with a friend, Blyth Daylong, the director of a performing arts center. He loved the show, even as a seasoning minority. (“I’m ketchup only — a hard thing to say.”)

As the wrestling progressed from EWA’s table-breaking antics to the nipple tweaking of Choke Hole, fans oohed or trash-talked, awash in innuendo. Several came dressed for the occasion, as garnish.

Surreal barely covered the scene. There was an Elvis, and a shirtless clown that flopped through a baby pool filled with gallons of pungent relish. “My mind is blown,” one spectator said, while an EWA star executed a diving move called “the suplex” and the announcers discussed the relative merits of aioli and capers.

Cooney welcomed the subversive — or ridiculous — elements. “It’s been instilling people, especially New Yorkers, with the sense that Times Square can still be weird and wonderful and magical,” she said.

Passers-by stopped to gawk, in a crowd that soon grew four deep outside the barricades. Marie Jeanne Lo was visiting from Paris; would she see something like this there? “Absolument non,” she said, smiling.

The mood was joyful, and astounded; even the seen-it-all Times Square security guards laughed. An onion pummeled another character in a corner of the ring: pure delight. Choke Hole got raunchy: howls. The hot dog ascended skyward. When it was all over, the ground was littered with shimmer and confetti, and the air still smelled of pickles.



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