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What We Can Learn from Denver’s “Blue Mustang”

 Rachel Hultin, a Denver real estate developer, has launched a Facebook page opposing Denver International Airport’s Blue Mustang. A dare after a night out drinking with friends turned into media frenzy for Hultin who has wanted to crowd-source a response to the Luis Jimenez sculpture that greets visitors at the airport. Hultin has been featured in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and on CNN.com. A supporting Facebook page Support the Bad Ass DIA Mustang has only garnered 133 supporters.

However, since launching her campaign Hultin has changed her mind about having “Blue Mustang” removed. She now thinks that “pamphlets at the airport, and maybe education courses for airport bus drivers, could lead viewers into a deeper understanding of the horse and the artist,” she said to the New York Times.

That deeper understanding involves knowing more about New Mexico artist Jimenez and his technique. “Blue Mustang” is a 32-foot tall cast fiberglass sculpture and was one of the original public art works commissioned for DIA in 1993. The 9,000 pound sculpture was the largest work of Jiménezs career. The artist died while working on the sculpture, having completed the painting of the head of the horse.

Posthumously, Jimenez’s studio staff and family, along with professional low-rider/race-car painters Richard LaVato and Camillo Nunez, completed the final sanding and painting of “Blue Mustang.” Once the work was complete, the sculpture was shipped in three pieces to Kreysler and Associates in California. There, Mustang was finally assembled, reinforced and wrapped for shipment to its final home atop a windswept knoll between the inbound and outbound lanes at DIA. The bright blue rearing mustang with gleaming red eyes was installed permanently on February 11, 2008.

The eyes of the sculpture are light emitting diodes that glow like red taillights, an homage to Mr. Jimenez’s father, who ran a neon-sign studio in El Paso, Texas. Colorful neon paint and fiberglass materials are signatures of Jimenez’s style and were used to depict popular images of the “Chicano” culture and “el Norte”: the pieta, a border crossing, fiesta dancers, el vaquero. A sculpture of fiesta dancers is installed at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

Rudolfo Anaya, professor at the University of New Mexico, said of Jimenez: “The kind of medium he used shocked the art world at first. It was first called outlandish and garish, but it spoke not only to Hispanics but to the world. In the coming years there will be a school of Luis Jimenez art.”

As for the rearing horse, with its well-articulated body, laced with bulging black veins, it pays tribute to a mighty breed, the American Mustang that Mr. Jimenez saw as a symbol of freedom, strength and the American West.

There is a myth from the San Luis Valley Dweller of Southern Colorado, a story about a mustang who led all the others ““ “one who could run even faster than the wind. He would gather the herd from the plains and lead them to where the sweetest grass and water were to be found. They tell of a blue mustang whose eyes glowed red ““ he could run so fast some said he could fly.”

It is this myth that Jimenez drew upon when creating “Blue Mustang” a mythical horse that could run so fast he could fly and who led the others to the land of the sweetest grass. There is nothing scary about that. Nothing evil.

Ignorance may be bliss, but this story drives home the importance of tolerance and understanding. Of not just making assumptions or looking at the world through our own rose-colored glasses.

On her Facebook page Hultin pulls a quote from an old interview with the sculptor to support her original argument for removal:

“I don’t want to sound like a commercial artist but [making art] is entirely different when youre working with a community. The work belongs to the people. It has to come from the artist but the people have to be able to identify with it.” ““ Luis Jiménez {From John Beardsley’s “Personal Sensibilities in Public Places,” Artforum 19 (1981)}

Hultin’s supporters think that people can’t identify with the sculpture. Its a big blue horse with glowing red eyes. It must be evil. It’s scary. It makes my children cry!

My take? I think people can identify with it. They identify with it and it is disturbing to them because they don’t understand it and since they don’t understand it they react emotionally. It’s easier to be impulsive than to take time to see things another way.

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  1. The point being that education is the key to understanding and acceptance, is true in every aspect of life, and this is a perfect example of a missed opportunity. Public art works often draw criticism and cries of outrage the moment they’re installed. It seems to me that some pre-installation education and PR surrounding the works and the artists could go a long way towards understanding, and even foster positive anticipation and ownership in the public, instead of being forced to take a defensive stance after the fact. The agency that commissions the work has a responsibility to the artist and the viewing public to market the work.

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    • ellenberk says:

      Leanne’s update on Blue Mustang: Westword is reporting that the city of Denver had “Blue Mustang” appraised in October 2007 by Jeffery B. Bergen of ACA Galleries in New York City. His estimate of the value of the work was $2 million. The city has also recorded an interview with Jimenez’s widow, Susan, explaining the piece, which you can hear at 1-877-DEN-ARTS, ext. 7.

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