Vandals Damage a Powerful and Politicized Sculpture Near Rocky Flats

Just a week after it was installed in a field near the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, Jeff Gipe's monumental sculpture, "Cold War Horse," has been knocked over and seriously damaged. According to police, a vandal or vandals hit the sculpture with a vehicle over Labor Weekend and then got out and further attacked the piece with a sledge hammer.

A striking example of conceptual realism — and of political art — “Cold War Horse” is a life-sized depiction of a horse made of fiberglass, steel and resin that Gipe sculpted from the ground up. The horse is cloaked in a bright red hazmat suit and wears a gray respirator. The piece is meant as commentary on Rocky Flats, where plutonium triggers for bombs were once made; the plant was closed in 1992.

Gipe discovered the damage when he went to check on the sculpture around 2 a.m. on September 8. “It seems planned out by someone who really wanted to destroy it,” says the notably discouraged Gipe. He called the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office and says that a deputy came out to the site to photograph some tire tracks and footprints that led up to the wreckage.

Plans for a large housing development on some of the land once run by Rocky Flats is what, in part, inspired Gipe to conceive of a work of art that would suggest the area's toxic past. And that’s also why it was important to him to find a site near Rocky Flats to install “Cold War Horse." He eventually secured the current spot, just off Colorado Highway 72, near Indiana Street, by going door-to-door; property owners Bruce and Janice Roberts allowed him to use their land to display the piece. 

Gipe lives in Brooklyn but he’s from Colorado and spends a lot of time here. A former student of Clark Richert’s at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, Gipe grew up near Rocky Flats, and his father worked at the plant.

A dedication for “Cold War Horse” is slated for October 18, but Gipe says the piece can't be fixed by then, though he may go on with the ceremony anyway. Gipe has set up a site,, for people who would like to donate to have the piece repaired.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia

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