Pale Rider

Luis Jimenez’s controversial “Mustang” rides on.

There is art that is perceived as a metaphor for death, and then there is art that has killed. When it's finally installed at DIA later this year, "Mustang" will be saddled with a backstory almost too bizarre for conspiracy theorists: The piece was actually responsible for the untimely death of its creator, nationally recognized sculptor Luis Jimenez.

The 32-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture of a rearing horse was anticipated to be DIA's most high-profile work of art when it was commissioned in 1992 at a cost of $300,000. Though plans were made to place the piece outdoors, on top of a rise south of the terminal, the steed wasn't likely to inspire any pastoral Western nostalgia. The Texas-born Jimenez was known for barrio imagery that was seen as kitschy by some, disturbingly stereotypical by others, with a raw and dingy style that infused subjects with a dark vigor. The towering mustang was to be cast in a bright-blue facade, with orange eyes that shot out red laser beams. Horses had long galloped through Jimenez's work, and he saw the work as a monument to the fierce and powerful animal.

But the original 1994 deadline for the work came and went. Jimenez was having eye trouble; a cornea transplant he'd gotten twenty years before had begun to deteriorate, and some people speculated that the piece would never be completed. The city gave him an extension, but that date came and went, too. When John Hickenlooper took office in 2003, eleven years after Jimenez received the commission, the artist had long exceeded his own reputation for project tardiness. The city filed a lawsuit against Jimenez for the $165,000 it had paid up front; Jimenez filed a countersuit claiming that he didn't have to deliver the sculpture because the airport had moved the location of the work to inside the main terminal. Both parties agreed to drop their suits as long as the sculpture stayed outdoors and was delivered by the end of the year. But that deadline came and went, also ("Pony Up," October 20, 2005).

"I can't give you a date right now," Jimenez told Westword at the time. "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."

The beast, by far Jimenez's largest sculpture ever, was his alone to tame. On the morning of June 13, 2006, he was standing on a ladder in his studio in Hondo, New Mexico, hoisting a large section of the Mustang. A cable broke or a hoist came undone, and somehow a piece of the sculpture with the fierce eyes came crashing down, pinning the 66-year-old artist against a steel beam and slicing through an artery in his leg. Jimenez died on his studio floor.

His friends now say that the blue mustang is cursed.

But it's still coming to Denver. Earlier this month, Jimenez's family informed the city that the sculpture will be completed and delivered to DIA by the end of the year. Although airport authorities ultimately nixed the idea of laser beams, they were replaced with red lights, so the eyes of the horse will continue to glow.

And the legend of DIA will continue to grow.

 
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