Public sculpture evokes strong emotions on both sides, ignites dialog

I couldn’t help smiling at recent articles about the discontent with Luis Jimenez’s 32’-high bright blue Mustang, which was installed a year ago at the entry to Denver International Airport. Mustang’s glowing red eyes look down upon you as you drive to the terminal. The anti-Mustang troops have garnered attention from every major media outlet, including the NY Times and Wall Street Journal.

It was déjå vu for me!

When I worked at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, a smaller version of Mustang evoked similar responses. The red eyes were “demonic” and the horse “possessed.”  The horse was on the corner of a lot in a prominent campus location and the university even built a rose garden around it–which was weird at first, but then it strangely seemed perfect to grow beautiful, thorny roses around a kitschy fiberglass sculpture with glowing red eyes.

Photo courtesy Denver International Airport ©2009 Estate of Luis A. Jimenez, Jr. / Artists Rights Society, NY.

Luis Jimenez Blue Mustang How sad if everyone liked public art immediately! Think of how boring art would have to be in order for it to be 100% likable. It would blend into the background.

Great art provokes dialog. It gives us something to talk about, something to rant about, something to embrace. Pleasant art quietly blends into the background.

I am a staunch supporter of this sculpture, which tragically fell over and killed the artist while it was being fabricated. I love driving by it and showing it to visitors I drive to the airport.

I think of this controversy as being related to the “obscene art” brouhaha that erupted against the National Endowment for the Arts when it was associated with (didn’t fund directly!) the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit. Testifying in a US Senate Subcommittee in 1990, Garrison Keillor said:

I’m grateful to those who have so ably attacked the Endowment over the past year or so for making it necessary to defend it. . . . If Congress doesn’t do something about obscene art, we’ll have to build galleries twice as big to hold the people who want to see it. And if Congress does do something about obscene art, the galleries will need to be even bigger than that.

It’s kind of how I feel about Mustang. Those of us who really love it didn’t have a reason to express our appreciation publicly before those who despised it spoke out against it. Sad indeed. And if it were to be removed, I can just imagine the outcry and the rallies of support. Fortunately, all public art in Denver must remain in situ for at least 5 years. That ought to be enough time for people to get used to it.

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17 comments to Public sculpture evokes strong emotions on both sides, ignites dialog

  • I’ll admit I find the discussion *about* the sculpture far more interesting than the sculpture itself. Oh well.

  • Walter Hawn

    While I agree about the need for artistic depth, I sort of wonder about the symbolism of a horse that killed its ‘rider’ at the entrance to an airport. It would be much better to ship the thing here, to Casper, to install at the opposite end zone of Natrona County High School’s football field, across from Chris Navarro’s “Mustang Pride.” Chris’s work is a more traditional (but still fiery) heroic bronze. The pair would be the talk of the west, I think. And Denver already has two really good Monet’s (which I saw at DAM last week), so it doesn’t really need the Jimenez, does it? :) Chris’s gallery: http://www.navarrogallerysedona.com/index.htm

  • I don’t understand – what’s the controversy?

  • Nice article. This article provided very information material.

  • I have no idea whether I like this sculpture or not since I suspect that the photo doesn’t come anywhere near the experience fo actually seeing it. “A kitschy fiberglass sculpture with glowing red eyes”, that a segment of the public despises and claims looks “possesed”, that fell over and tragically killed the artist while being made, there’s a GREAT horror movie in there somewhere! LOL

  • Ya know – when we first saw the horse we thought it was kind of goofy. The photo in this article makes it look fabulous. It’s a flat blue horse with questionable eyes. We wondered if it was finished? Were the eyes supposed to be orange to go with the whole Broncos thing? It sort of made us uncomfortable. Which of course isn’t a bad thing – just maybe the location was a little strange. But, it is talked about – and things we like don’t seem to get as much press as things we don’t. I didn’t know the artist had been killed. How very sad – I will think of him every time I drive by. Thanks for your great blog! I know it has helped many artists. Jennifer Golden, CO

  • Much as I like Mustang, I think it is important for collectors to remember that art is alive…The fact that an angry horse rearing up, killed the artist, is a reminder of how truly alive art can be…I once put up video feeds about the movie Sharkwater on a Mac website, & soon after, large chunks of my site started disappearing…Not being able to find a logical reason, I quickly deleted all the sharks, just to be on the safe side…(silly?) I think it is when we mold natural materials with intent, those materials become imbued with that particular intent…I watch my paintings change & grow over time & it seems that new forms emerge, possibly from the paints, or the wood or the linen…Is the choice of putting a dangerous stallion at an airport saying that today flying is dangerous?

  • Ah, I see we have believers in karma here. Well, I’m one of you. But I believe it would be even worse if the artist’s death and hard work was for naught. Eric: The controversy is explained in depth in those articles. Basically, it isn’t a happy, gentle horse. It’s a wild mustang that’s blue with glowing red eyes. Some people even complained that they didn’t like the horse’s ribs. As if that wasn’t realistic. Jan: I agree. Would make for a great film short if it weren’t so tragically true. Jennifer: Actually, the horse isn’t flat in color at all. It may look that way when whizzing by it, but it has tonal variations. Another reason to be sad that you can’t get up close to it. Sari: It’s only dangerous if you have to make the trip on a flying mustang. ;)

  • If one of the goals of art is to inspire dialogue, Mustang is a tremendous success. I’ve always been ambivalent about Jimenez’ work… My sense of aesthetic is more organic. It always seemed too glitzy to me, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. I have also always respected the spirit of his work, and his commitment/work ethic. The tragedy of the Mustang is a huge exclamation point at the end of artist’s life.

  • What a powerful sculpture and what a beautiful photo. I really like it. So sad the artist died from his work but I’ll bet he died happy doing what he loved. I find it interesting some say how the artist “should” have made the sculpture – no red eyes, no ribs showing, etc. Art is both in the eyes of the beholder and the artist. Was the artist commissioned to do this work and was the commission solicited by an art committee? Someone decided this was the artist they wanted and the type of art they wanted for this location. Hooray for the Wild West and hooray to Denver for choosing this sculpture and for keeping art in situ for at least 5 years.

  • great posting: thanks for sharing that.

  • Stephen V. Cobleigh

    Ms. Stanfield,

    I am a severe novice in blogging, yet have opened a blog on wordpress, not yet a day old. Well, I will Learn, see you in Estes Park.

    Stephen V. Cobleigh
    ( I have purchased “I’d rather be in the studio” -lots of info, working on it….)

  • Stephen V. Cobleigh

    Ms. Stanfield,

    Hmmn…Controversy over art …I like it…..
    Like it”s said – Nobody kicks a dead dog…..

    Stephen V. Cobleigh

  • [...] use as clothing or to keep one warm as a coverlet. These guerrilla knitted forms are made for the public. They are intended for everyone to appreciate at the same [...]

  • Good art doesn’t always provoke controversy, but neither does bad art.

  • Ed

    @eric I don’t get the controversy either! Bizarre.