The most talked-about piece of public art at Denver International Airport kicked up plenty of discussion even before it was installed on February 11, 2008.

DIA was still years from opening when the city's blue-ribbon arts panel gave a $300,000 commission to Luis Jiménez to create "Mustang," a 32-foot-high fiberglass horse that would become part of a thirty-plus piece, $7 million art collection funded by the city's One Percent for Art program. Airport commissions went to dozens of artists, some local — including Gary Sweeney, then a baggage handler for Continental who created "America, Why I Love Her" with postcards from tourists attractions across the country — and some international.

Although Jiménez lived in neighboring New Mexico, he fell into the latter category. Born in El Paso, he'd studied art formally at the University of Texas in Austin — and informally at his father's neon-sign studio — and was known for creating colorful fiberglass sculptures with a Southwestern flair. His proposal for the massive "Mustang" with glowing red eyes was based on the eight-foot-high "Mesteño (Mustang)" that's now part of the University of Oklahoma collection; it recalled the days when mustangs ran wild on the prairies, and also this area's Hispanic heritage.

Download your own "Mustang" paper doll.

"He was such an icon, and at a time when there weren't a lot of artists," remembers Patty Ortiz, now a museum director in San Antonio who was also tapped for that first round of commissions. (Those are her airplanes circling overhead as you get off the train in Jeppesen Terminal.) "He pushed that boundary and was accepted in the mainstream art world — not just doing what you would think of as Chicano art, but doing quality work that was accepted all over the country."

But he didn't do that work quickly. Jiménez took his time with "Mustang," inspiring numerous threats and actual lawsuits from the city. By the time the sculpture was finally installed — twelve years late and thirteen years after DIA opened — its price had doubled, to $650,000. And it had also cost the life of Jiménez, who was killed in 2006 when a piece of the 9,000-pound sculpture fell on the 65-year-old artist while he was working on it in his studio, severing an artery in his leg. He bled to death.

And that's when blue horse's devilish reputation really took off.

See also:
- "Mustang" isn't the only controversial public art in Colorado
- An ode to DIA's beleaguered blue horse
- Ten other notable pieces of Colorado public art
- Denver Broncos and "Mustang" -- a match made in hell

******

Even before Denver International Airport opened in 1995, the project had inspired numerous conspiracy theories. It was located on an Indian burial ground; the ill-fated baggage system just masked the fact that underground tunnels were being built to create a sort of Noah's Ark to protect the chosen when the world went to hell in a handbasket, or to house prisoners in a global concentration camp — take your pick. George Noory's crackpot Coast to Coast devoted an entire four-hour show to DIA in June 2007, much of it focusing on the New World Order, a fiendish, autonomous, behind-the-scenes government that manipulates global events. As evidence that the airport was a New World Order stalking horse, a caller pointed to the New World Airport Commission that had been set up in 1990 to handle opening festivities for the airport. "Denver is scheduled to be the Western headquarters of the US New World Order during martial law takeover," David Icke, a former BBC personality, wrote in his 1999 book, The Biggest Secret. "Other contacts who have been underground at the Denver Airport claim that there are large numbers of human slaves, many of them children, working there under the control of the reptilians."

But the pieces that really sparked conspiracy theorists were two murals by Leo Tanguma, "In Peace and Harmony With Nature" and "The Children of the World Dream of Peace." Tanguma, a Denver artist who spent three years creating the 28-foot murals, thought that one showed how humans can destroy nature and themselves through genocide; the second showed humanity coming together to rehabilitate nature. "I'm not part of any conspiracy whatsoever," he told Westword in 2007, when dozens of websites were already devoted to the Denver airport conspiracies. "I mean, it's weird to be saying that. In general, this is about humanity. What could they find bad about this?"

While Tanguma was defending his work, Jiménez's family was finishing his, "to pay honor to his memory," says Matt Chasansky, now the director of the Art and Culture Program at DIA.

And also, perhaps, to avoid having to pay the City of Denver for failure to deliver on a contract.

From the start, airport officials and the artist had agreed to install "Mustang" in front of the terminal, looking at Longs Peak. For a time, there was a push to put the sculpture inside the terminal, but when the TSA needed more space, that concept was quashed. And after 9/11, there were changes in the original site plan, too. At one point, the sculpture was going to be accessible, with a parking area around it so that people could walk all around the piece, see how it had been constructed and get intimate with the art. Now security concerns and the fact that the site was near a runway — not too close for those glowing eyes to cause problems, though — put the kibosh on that idea.

In 2007, the almost-finished "Mustang" finally went from the Jimenez studio to California, for pre-installation engineering. By now its value had doubled and then tripled, after the city's then-public art program administrator, Kendall Peterson, had the sculpture appraised by Jeffrey B. Bergen of ACA Galleries in New York City, which represented Jiménez. Bergen estimated its value at $2 million. "This figure accounts for the fact that there are only a handful of monumental works left by Luis Jiménez, and this is the largest of the group," he wrote. "All of the monumental works by Luis A. Jiménez would be appraised somewhere in this price range."

Transporting this monumental $2 million beast over the Rocky Mountains to DIA was challenging, because it qualified as a wide load. "It took a very circuitous route," says Chasansky, who'd just joined the airport staff. But that meant he was there to oversee the installation in February 2008, and despite the rocky road "Mustang" took to DIA, "it went without a hitch," he recalls. So did the sculpture's dedication four months later, when city officials and the press got to get up close and personal with the very anatomically correct horse. "We got some comments, pro and con," he says, but at an airport where gargoyles already watched over the baggage department and the New World Order ruled the terminal, the horse sculpture didn't attract that many neigh-sayers.

And then, in early 2009, local developer Rachel Hultin created a now-defunct Facebook page called "DIA's Heinous Blue Mustang Has Got to Go" that quickly attracted thousands of members — as well as a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal and another major piece in the New York Times.

To push her cause, she asked people to write haikus about the horse, which resulted in works like this:

Spooky blue flame steed

Greets us with heinous anus

This is art? Horseshit!

But no matter how artistically people made their requests, "Mustang" couldn't go anywhere, city officials told Hultin — as well as all those national reporters. At least not for another four years. It was Denver policy that public art pieces had to be in place for five years before the city would even think of moving them, much less dumping them altogether.

That policy is reaffirmed in the DIA Art & Culture Program Public Art Policy guide dated October 1, 2012:

The Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs and the Denver Public Art Program are committed to the ongoing presence and integrity of public art and the sites for which public art is created, to preserving the vision of the artists who create public art, and to assuring continued access to the artworks in the city's collection by the public.

On rare occasions, unusual circumstances warrant the removal, relocation or disposal of a work of art from the city's collection. The Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs follows established procedures for deaccession or relocation to insure that the integrity of public art, artists and the public is respected. Generally, artwork will not be removed from public display sooner than five years after its installation. A request for deaccession or relocation involves careful consideration of public opinion, professional judgment and legal advice.

That five-year anniversary hits on February 11, 2013. Is it finally time to put "Mustang" out to pasture?

******

Denver International Airport is now in the process of commissioning a second round of artwork, a $4.5 million cultural windfall tied to the South Terminal expansion. The first phase ended with "Mustang," Chasansky says, and there's been lots of discussion of what to do this round. "We need to stay nimble and be good stewards of public art," he says. "We need to think how things will benefit the public."

One project has already been introduced: "Friends as Neighbors," which brought four artists to the airport for a week, then sent them back to their homes to create proposals that took Colorado's geography and culture into account. "Parterre," a new piece by Longmont's Kim Dickey, was installed in the terminal this past December 21. That was a big day on the Mayan calendar, conspiracy theorists should note, but the intricate ceramic piece was more inspired by eighteenth-century European gardens and the airport's own design (which does not mimic male genitalia, no matter what a recent Colbert Report would have you believe). And sometime in February, a performance piece will feature people carrying sound equipment in their luggage, stopping to entertain (or at least startle) passersby.

Do not expect many more blue sculptures, even though Lawrence Argent's "I See What You Mean," aka the Big Blue Bear, outside the Colorado Convention Center, has won many fans. "We won't be the city of blue animals," Chasansky promises.

But this is likely to remain the home of the Big Blue Horse.

Because Chasansky isn't hearing many calls to deaccession the piece these days. "There continues to be discussion," he says, noting that about 50 percent love the piece, 50 percent loathe it. That statistic was confirmed in an airport art survey conducted last year. But the survey also determined that "Mustang" is the best-known piece of art at DIA: It has become a cultural touchpoint, and not just in Colorado. In 2011, Yahoo named it one of the top five bizarre pieces of public art in the country — but "Mustang" only ranked third.

The Denver Art Museum has been considering a Luis Jiménez retrospective, but setting that up with the estate has been no easier than getting "Mustang" completed.

"It's really important to have in Denver's art collection," Patty Ortiz says. "I've always loved this work, and I think a lot of times it can be misunderstood because it's kind of fierce, in a way, and not easy to look at, but it's not meant to be easy. It's supposed to challenge and make them think."

"I love the Mustang," says Chandler Romeo, an artist who's on the current committee considering new art for the airport. "And the reason I love the Mustang is because it doesn't matter who you're talking to, where you are, people will react. Everyone will talk about the Mustang. To my mind, that's fantastic. Either they hate it or love it, but it evokes a response. I have been followed around cocktail parties and talked to about 'Mustang.'"

The talk will continue. Although the conspiracy theorists have generally left the legend of the blue mustang alone — after killing its creator, what more would the piece have to do? — it does rate a mention in the Montauk Project, Chasansky's favorite DIA conspiracy theory. As the story goes, post-World War II experiments with mind control and time travel sent U.S. troops into the past and the future — where, in 2600, they come upon a ruined city with the remains of a mammoth sculpture of a blue horse. (Think the end of Planet of the Apes, but with "Mustang" instead of the Statue of Liberty.)

And come 2060, the odds are good that "Mustang" will still be standing guard outside Denver International Airport.

"Here's my thing," Chasansky says. "Most of the people who don't like the blue Mustang still value public art — and now a whole group has emerged who may think it's a badass blue Mustang, but it's our badass blue Mustang."

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61 comments
D.M
D.M

I find it wild, beautiful and surreal all at once.  As a native born and bred, I want it to STAY.  This is Colorado. Dangerous mountains, modern urban city, farmland and everything in between.  I find it unique, and somehow it makes me proud to see that rearing thing half dream, half real, and totally, gorgeously brash.  

Do NOT remove it.  Many have grown to love it, or at least respect the fact that it says, 'This is Colorado. Wild, modern, non-afraid, FREE, Colorado.

Don't have a fit.  This is only one opinion, as all others are.

No Snakes
No Snakes

We need four more Bluecifer's!!! Put one in each median strip of the Interstates (25 and 70) as they enter the Metro area!  Why should the people flying into Denver be the only ones to enjoy seeing a red-eye'd, demonic blue horse cursing their arrival?

YEE-HAW!

paulanthony663
paulanthony663

Left Blank: That's fitting, Nimrod (nice repartee, by the way). By public opinion, I was referring to an open discourse MINUS the Art Kommisar who obviously overlooked the art schools and talent that Denver and the State of Colorado possesses. 

Yeah, let's keep the blue horse--and the white one at the "Name Du Jour" Stadium. Oh, wait, I know, let's replicate horses across the state to underscore how we're not a Cow Town, but a Horse's Ass (like yourself) Town. 

Thanks for the input.


paulanthony663
paulanthony663

It’s been five years: It’s high time to free the Mile High City from the high-handed antics of the Reptilian Politicians who “control” the city’s coffers. That means it’s time to implode the so-called “badass” blue horse.

This Fiberglas (that’s a trademarked name, by way; like Xerox, Frigidaire, etc.) monstrosity with the red eyes (oh, wait I get it: Red Eye, as in a parlance for a specific schedule of air travel) must go. This once $300,000.00 piece of horse dung is now inflated to maybe four times that “value”? Are you crazy? 

Is Matt Chasansky on drugs or under the influence of the supposed demonic and crazy-making horse’s ass sculpture when he says, "We need to stay nimble and be good stewards of public art," he says. "We need to think how things will benefit the public."?

Uh, dude, too late: that ship has sailed (or, rather, that flight has departed).

No matter what wording is used, we must consider what the logic is behind the “$4.5 million cultural windfall tied to the South Terminal expansion,” when we have people starving and  homeless on our city streets. I’m all for public art. But, the stench that the blue horse has emitted in our local dialog and among the national media has tarnished the reputation of  our once proud “Cow Town”.

I like Denver, but I hate its politics. From Pena to the present administration, Denver has garnered recognition for all the wrong reasons.

Why not invite public discourse (which may have gone by the wayside, as did the Greeks from whom the idea was spawned) about the dictates that our public servants must follow regarding how those monies are to be used?

Why not support the greater good, and not the back office, back handed political agendas that threaten our society, our concept of good taste, an our understanding of the purpose of public art?

After years of white elephant politics and over building at DIA, the blue mustang is the centerpiece of what can and will go wrong with public monies in the hands of politicos who have no idea what they’re doing.

But don't tell them that--they won't understand because...the mustang has them bam-blue-zooled.

paulanthony663
paulanthony663

It’s been five years: It’s high time to free the Mile High City from the high-handed antics of the Reptilian Politicians who “control” the city’s coffers. That meanit’s time to implode the so-called “badass” blue horse.

This Fiberglas (that’s a trademarked name, by way; like Xerox, Frigidaire, etc.) monstrosity with the red eyes (oh, wait I get it: Red Eye, as in a parlance for a specific schedule of air travel) must go. This once $300,000.00 piece of horse dung is now inflated to maybe four times that “value”? Are you crazy? Are we, as citizens/dogged denizens of the City and County of Denver on drugs? Thank God for the new marijuana laws.

Is Matt Chasansky on drugs or under the influence of the supposed demonic and crazy-making horse’s ass sculpture when he says, "We need to stay nimble and be good stewards of public art," he says. "We need to think how things will benefit the public." Uh, dude, too late: that ship has sailed (or that flight has departed).

No matter what wording is used, we must consider what the logic is behind the “$4.5 million cultural windfall tied to the South Terminal expansion” when we have people starving and  homeless on our city streets. I’m all for public art. But, the stench that the blue horse has emitted in our local dialog and among the national media has tarnished the reputation of  our once proud “Cow Town”.

I like Denver, but I hate its politics. From Pena to the present administration, Denver has garnered recognition for all the wrong reasons.

Why not invite public discourse (that may have gone by the wayside, as did the Greeks from whom the idea was spawned) about the dictates that our public servants must follow regarding how those monies are to be used?

Why not support the greater good, and not the back office, back handed political agendas that threaten our society, our concept of good taste, our understanding of what public art is, and what it is there for?

Well, a man can dream.

After years of white elephant politics and building at DIA, the blue mustang is the centerpiece of what can and will go wrong with public monies in the hands of politicos who have no idea what they’re doing.

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

It would be a cool thing to have sex on top of ........

Definitely memorable !

miguelalidaddy
miguelalidaddy

For what it is worth, I adore the demon horse. It is a terrific homage to our cowboy identity, as well as a slight homage to the Roy Rogers replica (Thunder) atop the South Stands of Mile High Stadium. Mustang is a beautiful piece of artwork (and I say that as a person who holds a Master's in Fine Arts with an emphasis in Film Directing). I'm not trying to be a snob, but I just want it noted that someone with a Master's in the Arts loves this sculpture.

James Read
James Read

I think Charlie Daniels sais it best: Wild as a coastal barronca swift as the wind blowing free With two eyes like fire brands that glow in the night Somewhere up there he's waiting for me And he knows that I'm coming' for him and I just can't rest till I find That raven black stallion that wears no man's brand with a wild restless spirit like mine They call him Caballo Diablo half-horse half-devil they say Caballo Diablo the outlaw up a top the Sierra Madre Two men before tried to take him they had their chance one by one But each met his fate when those flashing' black hooves Brought death 'neath the Mexican sun Still I can't leave I must find him you fool of a horse can't you see Well I may be half man but the other half's devil and you're just exactly like me They call him Caballo Diablo Even the breezes stopped moving hush now be still Don't make a sound stay close to the ground cause he's waitin' just over that hill Downwind behind him move quickly do it fast now he's starting to stir Grab a handful of mane and up on to his back And start raking him down with your spurs But try as he will he can't shake me as over the precipice we go To shed the life blood of a horse and a man on the rocky sierra below They call him Caballo Diablo Read more at http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858973405/#wUOL5bQOxIASo1Ke.99

1hunterado
1hunterado

~~~

I for one am sick and tired of all these attempts to infuse Hispanic heritage in every city. The Denver metro area was never part of mexico.

We have the same issue in Fort Collins, the Cashe La Poudre river was named by the French, yet the city wants Hispanic heritage infused so they add southwest art here and there trying to be Hispanic!!! While the truth is the Germans and Irish were the pickers in Northern Colorado.

Whats next? Maybe they'll change the name of the Cashe La Poudre to Cash De Paso, who knows. The sad part is I'm Hispanic myself and I hate this bogus lying!

Jesse Askeland
Jesse Askeland

Keep it. It's unique, controversial, striking, and a little creepy. What more do you want in a piece of art?

djbarista
djbarista

Move it to Mile High Stadium.

Kyle Hartman
Kyle Hartman

He is creepy as fuck but he needs to stay. I feel like DIA would be cursed if we moved him.....he's that kind of horse. A

Denise93
Denise93

Whether you like the blue demon horse or love it....it has a story....it is different....it is creepy......it is intriguing.....it makes people think...it makes people talk....it is memorable. It is now part of Denver and an icon that people remember about their trip to Denver and through DIA. I say keep it! I mean, what else are you going to do with it? Put in downtown next to the big blue bear? That would be even creepier! At least where he is now, there is no chance of him falling on anyone else! Besides if he is removed from his current perch then every time you drive to the airport you will have to tell people..."there is where this weird statue of a blue horse used to be....." end of story. Let him stay at DIA!

Valerie Cates
Valerie Cates

Disgustingly weird Anatomcally correct Zombie Horse? Yea, time to put it out to pasture

Andrew Nolte
Andrew Nolte

Seriously, most non-art peeps would vote to replace a Picasso with a Bob Ross painting because it was less offensive. Blucifer is a rare piece of artwork that has a backstory, relevance and actually has had an impact with viewers. I look forward to being welcomed back to Denver by our bad ass blue horse. We don't need to make our city as vanilla as others.

Tim Tindle
Tim Tindle

I say no matter what you sniveling arm chair aesthetes say, it is awesome, it is a symbol of our powerful and amazing culture. If you are scared of dicks, they have openings with West borough Baptist Church. The art is paid for, it stays!

Willis Becker
Willis Becker

Old Blue means a lot to me and many people I know. To see it go would be heart breaking. He is so FUCKING BADASS!!! Why would you ever want your city to be less badass?

Ozzie Perch
Ozzie Perch

that funky blue horse with red eyes is the scariest grotesque thing to be seen in public, except for the dancing manikins at the DCPA; I love art in public but can we please have some sanity in the process of commissioning things and stuff?!

Jean Smith
Jean Smith

Neigh, it is just beginning to rock and roll!

Brenda Weston
Brenda Weston

I don't like that horse and it creeps me out. I would be happy if they took it out. And the fact that it killed the artist makes it just that much more creepy. It looks like an evil possessed horse. I have only been out to the airport to drop someone off but the whole airport land area has a eery feeling. It is so barren and then there is this big blue red eyed evil looking horse sticking out like a sore thumb.

Todd Anthony Ahlenius
Todd Anthony Ahlenius

What and put some corporate art there instead. There is a real story to the mustang. Leave him there. Maybe add some GIANT blue cows between runways. Or maybe a big blue ox.

Kipper Kelley
Kipper Kelley

i LOVE the mustang!! yes, a little creepy, but that is what makes it so unique and fascinating!!

Emily Marino
Emily Marino

No!!! Leave him! I love our city's demon sentinel! I hated the sculpture at first, but it has totally grown on me! Keep it!

Sanaya Tanksalvala
Sanaya Tanksalvala

If they get rid of it, they'd better get rid of the dancing aliens.

Vaios Papastergiou
Vaios Papastergiou

Take that ugly fucking horse and the rest of the illuminati New World Order bulll shit plastered throughout DIA and throw it in all the trash where it belongs! Better yet, bury it and top it with a fucking gravestone!

Megan Antonio
Megan Antonio

I think it should be kept. The artist died for his piece and we should respect that. I also think the airport wouldn't be the same without it.

left_blank
left_blank

@paulanthony663

Yeah!  They should invite public discourse!  Be more democratic!


Ooh, except the whole reason this article exists is because there IS public discourse.  And at the five year anniversary their policy is triggered to allow an official avenue for that public discourse to be codified.  


Nimrod


And, you are totally ON about Denver's reputation!  Makes us look like schmucks that this public discourse on the value of public art is "garnering recognition for all the wrong reasons"!!


Dang, except how's it going to look for Denver's reputation if the history books put Our Fair City on the same list as all those who have burned books, stifled speech, and banned art?  The only reason anyone should be embarrassed about this community-wide conversation is because of the folks who seem to think that just because you personally don't like something that it should be banned and burned.  


Nimrod.

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

@1hunterado  

 I'm white & couldn't agree w/ you more !

What's your take on WW's,  'Ask a Mexican '.. ?


ccapra
ccapra

@Brenda Weston Thank you!  I don't want to look at something that killed it's creator right before I go on a plane.

Cecil
Cecil

@Vaios Papastergiou Now *that* is the kind of reasoned, thoughtful reply for which this comment section is justifiably famous.

 
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