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Duck preens in hideaway for debut at Point

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By Alice T. Carter
Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 10:20 p.m.

Lord, love a duck!

What's arguably the biggest international celebrity ever to visit Pittsburgh makes its entrance with an air of mystery: Where do you hide a four-story-tall, three-story-wide inflatable Rubber Duck?

The installation piece, produced by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, will make its first U.S. appearance as guest of honor at The Rubber Duck Bridge Party from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday.

The duck's arrival marks the start of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts. The duck will be on view through Oct. 20 near Point State Park.

Avoiding paparazzi at its secret nest, Rubber Duck handlers are prepping for the debut.

“It should take between 15 and 22 minutes to fully inflate,” said the Trust's Paul Organisak. “A recent dry run took 23 minutes.”

The duck will be launched, fully inflated at an undisclosed location downriver from the West End Bridge. It won't travel through the Emsworth Locks and Dam, Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Dan Jones said.

A tugboat will escort it up the Ohio and Allegheny rivers to its launch party.

Hofman deflects questions about the duck's meaning or message:

“What does it mean for you?” he said. “An artwork should always communicate to you as a viewer. I've been working on the project for 12 years. I have many, many thoughts. When we are living on one planet, all global waters become your bathtub.”

The duck joins people together, makes them happy and reminds them of their childhoods, Hofman suggested. “It's about looking, viewing, seeing things in new ways and being amazed.”

Since 2007, versions of the duck have appeared in cities, including Sydney, Sao Paulo, Amsterdam and Hong Kong. Pittsburgh will be its last appearance before the international Rubber Duck Project migrates to a three-month hiatus.

Each city's duck is custom-built under Hofman's supervision.

For Pittsburgh, Inflatable Images in Brunswick, Ohio, made the inflatable PVC Duck that will roost on a 14,000-pound pontoon, constructed by Western Pennsylvania Steel Fabricating in New Castle.

A team of bodyguards will offer 24-hour security.

Past ducks have been as large as 85 feet tall, more than twice the size of the Pittsburgh duck. Hofman said the Trust restricted the height to 40 feet so it would fit under the Fort Duquesne and West End bridges.

“It's a charming, funny thing,” said John Frazier, of Washington, who saw the duck in Hong Kong, where Frazier was studying.

“What drew me was the novelty of seeing the Hong Kong skyline with this Duck in the water,” Frazier said. “The giant rubber duck, this bastion of opaque yellow dye, is all things to all people.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or

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