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Pony Up

The state of the art in Denver.

Last Saturday, New Mexico artist Luis Jimenez was supposed to install his monumental "Mustang" outside the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport -- just eleven years after the sculpture was originally slated to be stabled there. But that deadline, like so many, came and went.

"It's close; progress has been great," says Pauline Herrera, spokeswoman for the city's office of Cultural Affairs, which manages the acquisition and installation of public artwork. "It's near completed, so maybe before the end of the year."

DIA's public-art program commissioned the piece in 1992, agreeing to pay Jimenez $300,000. He got half down, and the other half was to be paid upon installation of the blue beast before the airport's opening in 1994 -- which turned out to be 1995 because of problems with the baggage system. But by the time Mayor John Hickenlooper took office in 2003, Jimenez still hadn't ponied up. So the city sued, and Jimenez countersued, saying he wasn't going to deliver the sculpture because DIA had decided to install it inside the terminal, which was unacceptable. The two parties went through mediation, and the lawsuits were dropped on the condition that "Mustang" gallop onto airport grounds by October 15. But the horse failed to show.

"It should be in now by January 31, 2006," says City Attorney Cole Finegan, who laughingly adds, "Someday our horse will come."

Jimenez himself would like that day to come sooner rather than later. "I can't give you a date right now," says the artist. "But the sculpture is doing really well. I've completed all the clay and all the molds. The head has been totally finished, and the mid-section has been, actually, pretty much finished casting. That leaves us with just the last bottom section. I don't have a big crew, you know, and I didn't farm this out.

"Whenever it arrives, the 32-foot-tall sculpture should be of the worth-the-wait variety. As long as DIA provides the electricity, the horse's eyes will glow red as it gazes out over the Colorado prairie. "I think it's going to be effective and people will appreciate it," Jimenez says. "I hope people can actually get up to it. The project wasn't about just the sculpture; it was about that knoll it will sit on and people being able to hike up to it and drive to it. But with 9/11, not everything will be possible. There will still be a bench around it where people can sit and look out at the mountains."

While the public-art section of DIA's website is so optimistic it reads as if the piece has been on display for years, other art insiders are hedging their bets. "I'm not putting any money on the damned thing getting done," says Bill Havu, owner of the William Havu Gallery and no stranger to local art controversies. His gallery represents Lawrence Argent, creator of the forty-foot blue bear -- officially known as "I See What You Mean" -- that stands outside the Colorado Convention Center and was co-opted by the group pushing the lodging-tax hike on next month's ballot before Argent gave belated permission. (More on blue bears both big and little below.)

This spring, all eyes were on "Meeting of the Minds," the $52,000 sculpture by Douglas Kornfeld installed in City Park as part of the renovations to the golf course. One of the two giant, orange-steel heads is an African-American woman looking out into the neighborhood, according to Kornfield, a Denver native; the other, half-buried head is supposed to represent a white man. Naturally, this discourse on race and gender inflamed area shock jocks and white-supremacy groups such as the National Vanguard. Maybe the Vanguard would like to take Jonathan Borofsky's "The Dancers" -- better known as the Giant Aliens -- back home with them to Virginia. The sixty-foot pair, a $1.5 million pick by then-first lady Wilma Webb, have been tiptoeing through controversy since they appeared in June 2003.

Art feuds are nothing new in the Mile High City, though. Back in 1911, the citizenry got up in arms over the design for Civic Center Park's "Pioneer Fountain." Sculptor Frederick MacMonnies originally wanted to feature Indians in the commission, but Denverites sent him back to the drawing board to come up with a monument to those nice white pioneers.

And we wonder why Columbus Day is still such a big deal.

Prints charming:That pesky Tourism Pays! campaign is causing no end of problems. The Denver Election Commission-- which at this time last fall was hunting down tens of thousands of missing absentee ballots that an out-of-state printer (what, no company closer than California could do such a bad job?) had failed to mail -- has just confessed to yet another in a long line of snafus. Turns out the white "Notice of Election" ballot book that the Tabor Amendment requires on any measures "to increase debt/taxes," the one that arrived in Denver mailboxes about ten days ago, failed to include "the statement in favor of Referred Measure 1A." And so the commission had to print another booklet and send it out to all those same mailboxes.

Alton Dillard, who used to run Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell's Colorado office, just started a gig with the commission as a "media relations consultant" on Tuesday, which means he got the unenviable assignment of explaining what had happened. "Be gentle," he says. "It was a clerical error. The statement in favor of 1A got into the office so early that it got misfiled." The commission never got any statement from opponents of the heavily supported measure, he adds, "and since that first document was not located, we believed there was not any statement on either side." And so an incomplete booklet went to press, and it cost the commission (an independent agency funded by Denver) $43, 396.70 to correct the error by printing and mailing an addendum. "That's 26 cents per household to make sure voters of Denver had all the available information prior to casting their votes," notes Dillard.

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