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The Blue Mustang sculpture: big as the Denver sky

If you've been to Denver International Airport lately, outside the main terminal you've surely noticed the massive — and massively controversial — 32-foot-high metallic-blue mustang sculpture rearing up on its hind legs.

Luis Jiménez's Blue Mustang weighs in at 9,000 pounds and stands 32 feet tall.

Luis Jiménez's Blue Mustang weighs in at 9,000 pounds and stands 32 feet tall.

If you've been to Denver International Airport lately, outside the main terminal you've surely noticed the massive — and massively controversial — 32-foot-high metallic-blue mustang sculpture rearing up on its hind legs with yellow-red gleaming eyes that shift color as the sun moves overhead.

 

Me? I love it.

I believe Blue Mustang's intensity shows fright provoked by a changing Western landscape, and the sculpture reminds me I'm in the West.

Some people think Blue Mustang is just a frightening sight — particularly for those who aren't too keen on flying and are about to board a flight.

Protesting Denverites have termed Blue Mustang "the devil's horse" and "Bluecifer" as they've debated its public installation on local radio and TV.

The debate has escalated to the point that it's been a subject on the NBC Nightly News website; there's even an anti-Blue Mustang page on Facebook.

"Today it's probably the most famous horse sculpture in the West," says Erin Trapp, director of the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs.

Trapp says the city will not consider relocating the sculpture before 2013, when it will have been installed for five years.

"People's view of public art changes as they look at it," she explains. "We've seen a tremendous shift in public opinion already."

The sculpture went up in early 2008, and now that it's been installed for more than a year, Trapp finds that there "are as many or more people expressing their support for and love of that piece as those who dislike it."

For those who love the sculpture, it's emblematic.

"Perhaps one of the things that makes people so interested in it is that it is a strong take on a very potent image of the West," Trapp says. "It's an image of a wild, untamed horse, but it also represents the wide-open spaces that now are becoming more urban and the tension there. And it represents our heritage as adjacent to or part of Mexico and all that goes with that."

Luis Jiménez's Blue Mustang was notorious even before the artist finished it.

A section of the 9,000-pound fiberglass sculpture came loose from a hoist and tumbled down onto Jiménez in 2006 while he was constructing it in his studio in rural Hondo, New Mexico.

The massive thing that the renowned 65-year-old artist had been working on for 14 years pinned him against a steel support, severing an artery in his leg and ultimately killing him.

The wild Spanish Mustang sculpture was finished by his sons, making it a three-generation memorial: Jiménez, who was known for his baroque populist figurative sculptures featured at the Smithsonian Institution, had paid tribute to his father — the elder Jiménez ran the Electric Neon sign studio in El Paso, Texas — by making the sculpture's eyes of red light-emitting diodes.

The artist's death, the controversial history of the piece, the horse's fierce eyes, its stunning blue color — Trapp knows a standout piece of public art when she sees one: "I don't think this is a piece that will ever fade into the background."

 

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