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The Demon Horse Of Denver

Amy Gahran
CC BY 2.0

A critique of the modern American West or a scary harbinger of death? Public opinion may lead to the dismantling of Denver International Airport’s most unique feature.

When the Denver airport commissioned artist Luis Jimenez in 1992 for a sculpture to adorn the new airport grounds, they knew his style was bold. Jimenez was a critically acclaimed artist and well known for using bright colors and settings to fuse Chicano themes and American history in his work.

Sounds like a perfect choice for Denver, a city known for its veneration of cowboy culture and a symbol of the modern era of the American West.

They did not perhaps have an anatomically correct 32-foot-tall cobalt blue horse with blazing red eyes and bulging veins in mind, however.

“Blue Mustang” as the piece is formally named — it's been nicknamed ‘Bluecifer’ for its possessed appearance — is turning five this month, and now its tenure as the most talked-about display of public art in DIA’s history may be coming to an end. In Denver, petitions to remove artworks aren’t accepted for the first five years in an effort to keep public art installations from being torn down too impulsively.

Its aggressive appearance and sheer size has made it a few admirers — who say they applaud its distinctive style, so different from the usual bland airport artwork — and more than a few enemies.

Then there’s the context.

In 2006 the mustang’s torso portion swung out of control while Jimenez was hoisting the pieces for final assembly and crushed the artist to death. His widow and children helped finish the sculpture, and it was installed in 2008 at a cost to the city of $650,000.

The sculpture was originally intended to be in its own mini-park off the airport road, equipped with parking and benches for people to sit and mull over the artist’s vision, but the parking area was scrapped after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 for security reasons.

Now, most airport visitors whiz by — creating a fleeting impression and giving what some say is an unfair intimidating aura to the piece.

Denver is making super-sized blue animals a bit of a theme in the city, where a giant two-story blue bearcalled “I See What You Mean” peers into a window of the Colorado Convention Center. The bear was created by Lawrence Argent, an artist in Denver.

While some may dislike its unapologetic nature, just the cost of removing it may keep “Blue Mustang” around.

Jimenez created a much smaller and more muted version called "Mesteño" which caused complaints when it was installed at the University of Oklahoma’s art museum in 1997. It was later moved to a less prominent location on the campus.

Jackie Fortier
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