Public art is defined as artwork that has been commissioned by a government agency — but there are plenty of paintings, sculptures and other pieces that are displayed in public places, even if they have been paid for by private entities. The following is a list of ten controversies surrounding public art or art in public places across Colorado.
1. Boulder has a reputation as an outlandish place, and there are many reasons why. The town got a new one in October 2001, when the Boulder Public Library decided to hang a string of multi-colored ceramic penises from a clothesline as part of an art exhibit on domestic violence; the piece, called "Hung Out to Dry," also included a noose. To add to the fun, the library had only recently weathered a controversy about its decision to not allow employees to hang a large American flag above a doorway in the wake of 9/11; there was already a flagpole outside. The weenie work wasn't paid for by the library — it was part of a larger exhibit mounted by a nonprofit that helps women who have been victims of domestic violence — but its placement created an outcry.
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2. In April 2011, someone beheaded a sculpture of a nude figure climbing a rock wall in a prominent roundabout in the Western Slope town of Silt. Commissioned by Garfield County and created by artist Blaine Peters in 2009, the five-ton "Silt in a Roundabout Way" — made from steel, Styrofoam and cement — was meant to symbolize the local fauna, but it is the naked cheeks of the climber (which could be a woman but looks more like a man) that got Silt's panties in a bunch. At one point, someone covered up the butt with some cloth.
3. Not everyone in Loveland was feeling very loving toward "Triangle," a bronze sculpture of three nudes, two women and a man, that was installed in a traffic circle in 2006. Created by internationally known Colorado sculptor Kirsten Kokkin and paid for with $67,000 of public-art money, "Triangle" was moved to a wooded park after enough people, including an angry Lutheran reverend, petitioned the city to have it moved, saying it was inappropriate and could cause traffic accidents.
4. That wasn't Loveland's only recent arty ordeal, however. In 2010, 56-year-old Kathleen Folden, a truck driver from Montana, walked into the Loveland Museum/Gallery and attacked a twelve-panel lithograph called "The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals" with a crowbar. The piece, by Stanford University professor Enrique Chagoya, included a section that could have been interpreted as Jesus Christ getting a blow job. Folden eventually pleaded guilty to ripping up the artwork and was sentenced to probation and mental-heath counseling and ordered to pay restitution. The damaged lithograph did not return to the museum.
5. In 2011, the Wheat Ridge Recreation Center removed two drawings and a sculpture by Colorado artist Michael McGrath after city employees claimed they were inappropriate for a family health club. The pieces included a torso, a man's butt (with a small portion of his scrotum showing), and a screaming banshee that someone apparently mistook for a vagina. After the removal, however, someone ratted Wheat Ridge out to the National Coalition Against Censorship, which started throwing the First Amendment around. The three pieces were reinstalled — but the city, which has its own public-art program, subsequently reviewed its policies on artwork.
6. "Scottish Angus Cow and Calf," by Dan Ostermiller, was installed near the Daniel Libeskind-designed Hamilton Building at the Denver Art Museum in 2006, one of four pieces of public art connected with the new structure. But some people have suggested that the bronze sculpture only reinforces Denver's reputation as a cowtown.
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7. Christo has been one of the world's art superstars for decades, but his projects typically inspire controversy wherever they go, and Colorado's Arkansas River Valley is no exception. The 77-year-old artist and his partner, the late Jean-Claude, began seeking permission many years ago to construct a piece called "Over the River," which would drape six miles' worth of silvery fabric along the mountainous U.S. 50 canyon between Salida and Cañon City. But repeated protests and concerns over environmental, safety and traffic issues, as well as legal challenges and mounds of government red tape, have held up the project. No public funding is supposed to go toward the project, but if it ever happens, it could have a bigger international impact than any other piece of art in the state's history.
8. The Colorado Council on the Arts paid $12,300 to commission a painting of Western Slope rock formations from California artist Christian Quintin in 2009. But when the mural arrived at Mesa State College, where it was supposed to be displayed, college president Tim Foster decided he didn't like its surrealist style. A year later, he sent the painting back to the state agency, complaining that "Of Stones and Water" wasn't "consistent with nor reflective of the work that the artist presented to the selection committee."
9. "National Velvet," the glistening red sculpture at the base of the 16th Street Pedestrian Bridge, isn't to everyone's taste. And the artwork, installed in 2008 by accomplished contemporary artist John McEnroe, caught a lot more heat than most of the pieces that are on display around town, in part because of the juvenile — though amusing — interpretation many people have of the piece, inspiring the nickname "Saggy Boob Electric Penis."
10. "Mustang" isn't the only piece of public art at Denver International Airport that has drawn criticism, comment and wonderment. Colorado artist Leo Tanguma's awe-inspiring murals at DIA are full of strange pictures: women in coffins, endangered animals, children worshipping a psychedelic plant, and a Gestapo-like character who appears to be killing a dove with a bayonet. The works have helped to create a conspiracy-theory culture around the airport that is second only to that of the Kennedy assassination and the moon landing. Tanguma himself says that that the mural is simply about the way people have destroyed nature and about how they could come together to rebuild it. The truth is out there...somewhere.