A pair of skis hanging on a wall at the Denver Beer Co. right now as part of the temporary Art of Winter exhibit has elicited a lot of attention over the past week. Done by Longmont artist Jason Kay, the skis depict entertainer-turned-politician Sonny Bono, decked out in red, on one stick — and snowy trees on the other. Bono, you may recall, died in 1996 after he collided with a tree at California's Heavenly Ski Resort.
Of course, Bono ruled the airwaves and the pop charts in the 1970s as part of Sonny and Cher. But when the hippie-dippy duo broke up, Bono went into politics, becoming the mayor of Palm Springs in 1988 and then a Republican congressman in 1994. His death came just a week after Michael Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, died in a similar accident in Aspen — a double whammy that quickened the pace of the skiing industry's transition from headbands to helmets.
So, is Kay mocking Bono, commemorating him — or just making a statement about skiing and safety and helmets?
"Every piece I do is to make people look at both sides of a situation. You don't know what side I'm on, so you can make up your own mind," says Kay. "For this, everyone has been, like, 'Yo, man, what's with the dark humor in this?' But it's not about that. If you can think about it a little bit before you go skiing, maybe you'll ski safer."
Kay is certainly no stranger to controversial issues, says Jennifer Mosquera, who curated the Art of Winter Upcycled Ski & Snowboard Art Galleries, which include pieces by more than forty Colorado artists done on used skis and snowboards and displayed at various breweries, restaurants and other venues around town through February 10. "He is a rascal, but in a positive way," she says. "I think he likes to keep his finger on the pulse of what is going on. I love his dark sense of humor."
Another example of that humor: Kay is currently selling yellow rubber bracelets for $2 each that resemble the 80 million Livestrong bracelets sold by disgraced former Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's cancer-awareness charitable foundation. But these are embossed with the words "Lance Lied," and 100 percent of the proceeds are being donated to Livestrong.
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The bracelets shed light on the real story, Kay explains: "People want to jump to conclusions, but there is a bigger picture here. People still care about cancer."
Kay has also done other well-known works, including an electrical box in Longmont painted to resemble a Rubik's Cube. But he is probably best-known for an art project that got him arrested. In January 2010, Kay bought several bottles of Gatorade at Safeway and King Soopers stores and replaced their labels with a photo of golfer Tiger Woods and his wife, Elin, along with the word "Unfaithful" — and then put them back onto the store shelves. (Woods had been a spokesman for Gatorade, but was dropped after his infidelity scandal broke.) Kay immediately took credit for the prank and even suggested to Pepsi, Gatorade's parent company, that it finance his project.
Instead, Kay was investigated by the FDA and charged with "adulteration and removal of the labeling of a food while held for sale," a federal offense. He was later sentenced to two years of probation and a $1,000 fine.
Although those bottles are no longer for sale, you can buy the one-of-a-kind Sonny Bono Folsom skis — for $900 — if you go to the Art of Winter's www.blacktie-colorado.com auction page.