Monday, March 2, 2009

And now for something completely different....

“Blue Mustang,” a sculpture at Denver International Airport.

Dick George/Associated Press via The Corpus Christi Caller-Times

A statue of a giant male horse — electric-eyed, cobalt blue and anatomically correct — was installed in February 2008 on the roadway approach to the terminal, and it is freaking more than a few people out.

Haters of this work say that “Blue Mustang,” as it is formally known, by the artist Luis Jiménez (killed in 2006 when a section of the 9,000-pound fiberglass statue fell on him during construction), is frightening, or cursed by its role in Mr. Jiménez’s death, or both. Supporters say the 32-foot-tall horse is a triumph, if only as a declaration of Denver’s courage to go beyond easy-listening-style airport art that many cities use like visual Dramamine to soothe travelers’ nerves.

Love it or loathe it, though, “Blue Mustang” is doing what art is supposed to do — get attention. There’s even a poetry slam planned in Denver to read horse haikus, of which about 250 have been composed, believe it or not.

“It’s definitely achieved its purpose of being memorable,” said Rachel Hultin, a real-estate broker in Denver who started a page on Facebook last month to vent her horse anxieties,, and found herself at the center of the debate.

Ms. Hultin, who said she started the campaign partly on a whim, “after a few drinks with friends,” also suggested on her page that people post comments in haiku form. Denver residents and travelers who had formed an opinion about the statue while passing through, leapt at the challenge. To wit:

Anxiously I fly
apocalyptic hell beast
fails to soothe my nerves.

Local artists and city public art administrators say “Blue Mustang” has stirred a deeper debate too, about Denver itself, and what sort of image it wants to communicate. Is “Blue Mustang” an echo of the city’s high-plains bronco-busting past? Or a mocking denunciation of the Old West conventions? Or is it just strange?

“People can’t put their finger on what’s it’s conveying,” said Joni Palmer, who is finishing a doctoral dissertation on politics and public art in Denver. “It’s the strangeness that really unnerves people — this mix of things.”

As another of the haiku writers put it:

Big blue horse beckons
Fiery, red eyes glowering
Good bye one horse town.

The airport’s public-art administrator, Matt Chasansky, said airport settings carry fundamentally different psychological baggage than ordinary urban spaces. Like most public art in Denver, he said, the statue was paid for by developers who are required to contribute 1 percent of the cost of major capital projects to public art.

“We don’t want the work to convey things that would make people uncomfortable about flying,” Mr. Chasansky said. No art, for example, would be commissioned with a violent theme. But art that is too soothing, he said, is probably in the end just bad art.

“Quality works of public art are not the works that are completely gentle,” he said.

Yet the specific setting of “Blue Mustang” has evolved since it was commissioned in the 1990s, changing how the work is perceived.

The original design called for a pull-off from the airport road, with benches and ample room to contemplate the statue from all angles. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, however, the parking area idea was shelved for security reasons.

That makes “Blue Mustang” literally unapproachable: most viewers zoom by, perhaps retaining only a vague impression. The barriers to approach, artists and art critics say, have compounded the piece’s troubles, making it seem even more forbidding by virtue of isolation.

“There’s no location to be able to get intimate with the work,” said Lawrence Argent, an artist in Denver. “It’s a vista from afar, and to many it’s a frightening vista from afar.”

Mr. Argent knows about distant vistas — and outsize animals too. He is best known in Denver for creating a two-story blue bear that peers into a window of the Colorado Convention Center, called “I See What You Mean.” Last fall he received a commission for an installation at Sacramento International Airport in California for a 56-foot-long red rabbit. When the piece is installed as part of a planned airport expansion, the fiberglass rabbit will appear to be leaping through the terminal into a giant suitcase.

Ms. Hultin, meanwhile, who got the ball rolling with her antihorse Facebook page, has changed her mind. She no longer wants “Blue Mustang” removed, as she once did. (City policy holds that public art pieces are left in place for five years, anyway, and officials have given no sign of budging.)

She now thinks that pamphlets at the airport, and maybe education courses for airport bus drivers, could lead viewers into a deeper understanding of the horse and the artist, she said, notwithstanding that she had been called “every name in the book” by defenders of the statue.

“In the process of being personally attacked through e-mail, and through learning more about the piece, I’ve shifted gears from, ‘I don’t think it’s appropriate,’ to ‘Let’s try and understand it,’ ” she said.

But the controversy has also stirred up people in other ways. Conspiracies have floated around the Internet for years about secret bunkers or caverns beneath the terminals at the Denver airport. Symbols of Freemasonry are also said to abound on airport floors and walls.

“It’s brought out the conspiracy theorists who think there are aliens living under the airport,” said Patricia Calhoun, the editor of Westword, an alternative weekly paper in Denver that is helping organize a “Blue Mustang” poetry slam in April to share horse haiku as part of National Poetry Month.


Should the Denver Airport’s Giant Blue Mustang Stay or Go?
Posted by Matt Phillips

A group of Denver locals is banding together in the hopes of getting rid of the giant blue mustang that greets those arriving to Denver International Airport, according to a Journal story published over the weekend.

If reporter’s Stephanie Simon’s description, of the giant statue doesn’t paint a picture for you, check out this slide show of the behemoth:

The mustang rears on splayed hind legs — his nostrils flaring, his eyes glowing red, his taut body a slick, sweaty sheen of blue. Anatomically correct — eye-poppingly so — the 32-foot-tall fiberglass sculpture makes quite a statement at the gateway to Denver International Airport.

But that begs the question: What kind of statement, exactly?

“It looks like it’s possessed,” says Denver resident Samantha Horoschak. “I have a huge fear of flying anyway, and to be greeted at the airport by a demon horse — it’s not a soothing experience.”

Today the journal published a couple letters to the editor with people’s take on the horse. Denver Councilman Charlie Brown wrote:

It’s clear to everyone that it’s a horse, and people only glance at it from their vehicles when they are driving to and from the airport. Denver International Airport is 53 square miles and the statue is next to the terminal, miles away from the view of any homeowner. Are folks offended by the 1950s Western sky blue sheen, the luminous red hangover eyes, or the anatomical correctness?

The mighty, muscular mustang has found a fitting spiritual home. Over time, I believe a majority of residents and visitors to the airport will appreciate “Mustang” for what it is: a powerful and engaging symbol for the captivating West, with its majestic mountains, sweeping vistas, brilliant sunshine and spirit of independence and romance. It’s the lure of Denver.

Meanwhile, Verne J. Harper of Longview, Texas countered:

All they need to do to gain acceptance of the blue mustang is to put a saddle blanket with John Elway’s number on it.

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