Denver, the legendary Mile High City, perhaps miffed that it’s still lower in elevation than the flatland metropolis of Albuquerque, is making waves—tiny, insipid waves—about a deceased New Mexico sculptor.
New Mexico suffered a loss in 2006 when artist Luis Jiménez was killed in his studio in Hondo (60 feet below Denver in elevation, for anyone who is keeping track). At the time, he was working on a massive commission that had haunted him for more than 10 years—a 32-foot-tall sculpture called “Mustang,” intended for the Denver International Airport (DIA). Jiménez was maneuvering a section of the 9,000 pound artwork when a mooring broke loose and he was killed by the impact.
His two sons completed the piece and it was installed at the airport outside Denver—an airport famous for its investment in contemporary art—a little more than a year ago.
It is classic Jiménez: so gaudy it’s good, an apparent cliché with nothing else like it. It’s three stories tall, as bright blue as a high school mascot and possessed of a very un-Barbie-like failure to achieve smooth nether regions; the thing’s eyes glow bright red at night. It’s a post-kitsch masterwork that pulls with equal vigor from classic sculpture, Western mythology, gift-shop charm, Japanese toy culture and sci-fi fantasy.
Naturally, primmer Denver denizens are appalled. Rachel Hultin, a real estate agent, perhaps finding herself with a sudden surplus of time, founded a Facebook group dedicated to ridding Denver of Jiménez’ final sculpture. Like other deluded souls who add energy and popularity to a thing by trying to censor it, Hultin has stirred a veritable firestorm of national media attention. She is apparently unaware that the coverage comes not out of respect for her cause, but because her Victorian, alarmist attitude generates an easy laugh.
Her cohorts in condemnation are helping out on that count. They continually post poems and photographs of the sculpture, including many images tweaked with photo-editing software in order to depict the horse destroying cars with its laser-beam eyes or in the company of the Blue Man Group. The former group also demonstrates a marked obsession with the horses graphic hindquarters. Apparently they hate that the horse has testicles so much, they have to go stand beneath and seethe. And take lots of pictures. Perhaps on a regular basis. One wonders when these people will snap out of it and realize that, well, they kind of love the thing.
In fact, giving people time to adjust to artwork that initially alarms them is the reason behind Denver’s policy of leaving public art in position for a minimum of five years before reviewing the placement and considering whether or not relocation might be appropriate. Now the city must defend the $300,000 purchase and forget the multiple legal battles it had with Jiménez about how long it took the artist to finish the project (it was initially commissioned in 1993) and, more to the point, about where to place it; Jiménez actually filed suit to ensure the horse was placed in its current location. The suit was dismissed, but the location was honored.
Of course, rather than adjust to artwork at DIA, conspiracy enthusiasts use various works to theorize about the airport’s role in the New World Order. The John Birch Society even purportedly claimed the airport’s luggage conveyor doesn’t work well because it was designed to move human bodies rather than Louis Vuitton and Samsonite bags.
New Mexico- and Texas-based artist Terry Allen has two sculptures—gargoyles sitting inside suitcases, together a work called “Notre Denver”—at the airport. He claims that, like the gargoyles of Notre Dame, they are meant to offer protection. But others allege they are portals to a fascist future, designed by Masons, that will be ruled from an underground citadel beneath the Denver airport. If it’s true, more power to Terry Allen—that was a heck of a commission he scored.
In the meantime, it remains to be seen how Jiménez’ “Mustang” fits into the New World Order (although one “photochop” job does depict George W Bush astride the beast). Its detractors call it names like “Bluecifer” and “Satan Horse”—so maybe it’s that simple. Of course, it must be the devil’s work. Hultin and her anti-horse group frequently point out that the sculpture must be evil because it killed the artist who made it. “You never know who will be next,” she went so far as to suggest.
Fortunately, Jiménez’ ethos and his work actually live on. “It is not my job to censor myself,” he was known for saying. “An artist’s job is to constantly test the boundaries.”