I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Even in death, Chicano sculptor Luis Jimenez gets last word in Denver
Luis Jimenez never shrank from a battle in his life. So I’d love to know what the famed New Mexican sculptor would think about the debate raging now over his monumental “Blue Mustang,” which rears and snorts, some say menacingly, on a knoll outside the Denver International Airport.
Jimenez, who died in 2006, was respected by art critics and revered by many who thought his vividly-colored fiberglass and neon sculptures embodied the soul of the Chicano community.
His long list of public artworks includes “Vaquero,” which stands outside the Smithsonian Institution, along with sculptures throughout the United States, including at the University of New Mexico and The Albuquerque Museum.
At the Denver airport, the 32-foot “Blue Mustang” bears all the Jimenez hallmarks: It is muscular, veiny and anatomically-correct. The giant bronco is an electric shade of glistening, cobalt blue, and its eyes glow red like taillights.
To many, the statue appears just as Jimenez intended: As an emblem of the American West and the people who helped shape its rough but vibrant history.
But in the year since “Blue Mustang” was installed (to great critical acclaim), a number of Denver residents have expressed their intense dislike of the statue. Some have even called for its removal, saying “Blue Mustang” is “fiendish,” “apocalyptic,” “horrifying” and “not welcoming.”
“DIA’s Heinous Blue Mustang Has Got To Go,” is the name of the 10,000 + member Facebook group started by Rachel Hultin, a Denver real-estate broker who is using the social network as one way to make her case against the public artwork.\
The people of Denver’s mixed reception for “Blue Mustang” is even more ironic if you consider the sculpture’s epic backstory. The City of Denver commissioned Jimenez to create the sculpture in 1992, for completion in 1994.
But “Blue Mustang” was plagued by years of legal battles over missed deadlines and proposed changes in the statue and where it was to be placed. Then, on June 13, 2006, Jimenez was finalizing the sculpture’s massive torso when a piece of the sculpture came loose from its moorings. The falling piece crushed an artery in his leg, killing the 65-year old.
Even casual observers were struck by the wrenching irony: The statue that consumed 14 years of Jimenez’s life was what finally, literally, ended it.
I spent some time with Jimenez in 2004, while doing research for a profile of him I wrote for Hispanic Magazine. He was working on “Blue Mustang” at the time. I had seen his show, “Man on Fire,” at The Albuquerque Musuem in the 1990′s, and I admired his work.
During our interviews, I enjoyed hearing him describe his classical training in drawing and sculpture and seeing how his major sculptures grew from penciled drawings that were works of art in themselves.
I learned that his love of shiny fiberglass and neon stemmed from his many hours spent as a boy in his father’s sign shop in El Paso. I sat in awe as he pointed out seemingly obscure details in his sculptures and explained what each one symbolized to him.
After the time I spent with him, I grew to admire him as a person, as well. I learned he was a good neighbor. I found out that he was a member of the school board and was also involved in a fight against a major road expansion that would cut through the heavily agricultural Hondo Valley.
But I think what impressed me most about Jimenez was his absolute confidence in what he was doing. I had interviewed a lot of artists, but none who were talented and accomplished enough to have arrived at the point where they could do and say exactly what they thought, without compromise.
If someone commissioned a piece of his art and wanted to change it , Jimenez told me, he would take it back and return the money rather than agree to alter his vision. I was familiar with the battle Jimenez had gone through in Albuquerque in the 1980′s with “Southwest Pieta,” a sculpture that the City of Albuquerque commissioned for a spot in the Northeast Heights.
The statue depicts an Aztec man holding his dead female partner on his lap in an image that recalled Mary holding Jesus after his death.
Residents of the neighborhood protested that the piece was not culturally relevant to their community. The piece was eventually moved to Martineztown, where it still stands today. Strikingly, the debate that caused Albuquerqueans to delve into questions of culture and history and censorship and taste — all because of a piece of public art — is one that Denver is embarking on now. It seems to be an evolving discussion.
Hultin, the founder of the removal campaign, now says she doesn’t want the statue removed — she just wants to keep sparking debate about it and the larger question of public art. So the conversation about Jimenez’s work continues, well after his death, just like it did in life.
Perhaps all this arguing is a way to keep his work alive, to confer some degree of immortality to his creations. And I bet that’s just how he would want it.