Denver’s startling airport mustang not ignored |

Denver’s startling airport mustang not ignored

AP PhotoThe 32-Foot blue "Mustang" sculpture is seen at Denver International Airport with the terminal in the background on Friday. A year after it was installed, Luis Jimenez's "Mustang" sculpture has become a hot topic of conversation.

DENVER, Colorado ” It’s a sight not easily forgotten by anyone using Denver International Airport.

Rearing 32 feet high on its hind legs, the metallic blue sculpture of a mustang demands the attention of all heading to or leaving the main terminal. Its glowering eyes ” that change from yellowish white to red during the day ” stare intensely as one drives past.

Installed a year ago, “Mustang” recently has become a hot debate topic on Denver-area radio, TV and the Web, thanks in part to one Denver real estate agent who wants it moved from its prominent place where 28 million travelers passed by it last year.

“What exactly was the deal with that horse?” said Rachel Hultin, creator of the Facebook site

It’s a common question, both for admirers and detractors of the late New Mexico artist Luis Jimenez’s work.

“It’s not the image you want in your head as you’re about to board a plane,” said Christie Carlson of the Denver suburb of Thornton. “It just cracked me up the first time I drove up to the airport and saw it. My daughter asked me, ‘Is that the devil’s horse?'”

Stan Ryland, a business development manager from Huntington Beach, Calif., isn’t bothered by the horse’s mean look.

“That’s what horses in the wild look like,” he said as he waited to board a plane Saturday. “They survived the wilderness and the mean ones led the pack.”

Others’ suggested monikers for “Mustang” include “Bluecifer,” ”Satan’s Steed” and “Blue Devil Horse.”

The city of Denver commissioned the 9,000 pound, $600,000 fiberglass sculpture in 1993, two years before the airport opened. It’s not a monument to the NFL’s Denver Broncos, as some have suggested. It’s meant to capture the spirit of the plains, where herds of wild mustangs once roamed.

It was delayed by lawsuits and an illness. In June 2006, Jimenez was killed when a section of the unfinished work fell from a hoist at his Hondo, N.M. studio. He was 65. Jimenez’s sons, Adan and Orion, completed the sculpture, which was installed Feb. 11, 2008.

“We worked very closely with the artist’s family,” said Erin Trapp, director of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs. “I don’t think that anybody ever considered not finishing.”

Jimenez’s widow, Susan Jimenez, said the original proposal was for a sculpture of a buffalo stampede. That was considered politically incorrect because buffalo were hunted to near extinction in the West.

Jimenez then proposed the mustang ” a descendant of Spanish horses that symbolize the West and provided an early method of long distance travel, like airplanes do today. Jimenez also wanted interpretative signs so travelers could learn about the mustang. That part of the design was dropped over safety concerns.

“It’s about thinking about our society, how it progressed and how it was made better,” Susan Jimenez said. “He wanted to engage people in that way.”

Jimenez grew up in El Paso, Texas, helping out in his father’s neon sign shop. Many of his drawings and other works, including his 1969 sculpture “Man on Fire” and 1990’s “Vaquero” have been displayed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

At the 1990 Three Rivers Art Festival in Pittsburgh, a Jimenez sculpture “Steel Worker” raised the ire of the United Steelworkers union. A piece loaned to the University of Texas in San Antonio titled “Border Crossing,” depicting a Mexican immigrant carrying a woman and infant across the Rio Grande, sparked a petition to remove it from campus, Susan Jimenez said.

His DIA piece, his largest, was partly modeled on an Appaloosa named Blackjack that he bought once he became a successful artist, fulfilling a childhood desire.

“You know you’re in Athens because you see the Parthenon,” Susan Jimenez said. “You go to Denver and you know you’re in Denver because you see the blue mustang.”

Trapp said the city won’t consider moving the statute until at least 2013. And there are no plans to do so.

“People’s relationships with art change over time. It’s something you have to live with before you really appreciate it,” Trapp said.

Hultin hopes Denver will move the sculpture to another part of town where anyone can learn more about it.

“It’s not a piece of art that people are going to shrug off,” Hultin said. “It’s sparked a pretty passionate conversation.”

That’s exactly what Jimenez wanted, his widow said.

“That’s what art is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be memorable and it has to evoke a feeling,” Susan Jimenez said. “The worst thing for him would have been to be ignored.”

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