Even in death, Luis Jiménez is helping to define the role of public art. In 2002, Jiménez was commissioned to create a sculpture for the Denver International Airport, but, in a great loss to the world of sculpture, he was killed in July 2006 by that very work. His wife and children finished the piece, and it was installed in February 2008 to both acclaim and criticism. Now, a year later, the 32-foot-high, rearing blue mustang with burning-red eyes continues to generate controversy.
The fact that Mustang is controversial is not interesting in itself. Neither is the fact that Jiménez didn’t survive to participate in the resulting discussion. The arguments raised by the sculpture’s supporters (e.g., it’s great art; it captures the demeanor of wild horses) and detractors (e.g., it’s demonic, it’s anatomically correct) do not distinguish this particular public art debate from scores of others.
What I find intriguing about the Jiménez controversy is that it has already run for a year and has a minimum of four more years left to play out. Despite the formation of at least one campaign to have the sculpture removed to a less prominent location and the praise of art critics everywhere, neither side will win or lose this fight for at least four more years. And in that time, no court will need to determine whether the sculpture stays or goes.
The City of Denver’s public art rules insure that this debate will have an appropriate period to “age,” giving both sides time to assess and reassess their own opinions and those of their opponents. In Denver, public artworks must remain in place for a minimum of five years to honor the artist’s intent and to give the work a chance to take its place in the city’s public art landscape.
I believe that this is a perfect example of evolution in the regulation of public art. Denver mandates a cooling-off period for all parties before they rush into a divorce they might later regret. This is, of course, just one example out of what may be thousands of such regulations put in place since the first sculpture was installed in a public square, but it is an excellent attempt to balance the interests of commissioning entities, members of the viewing public, and visionary artists.
Questions and controversies surrounding interpretation and intent in public art—its commissioning, construction, installation, maintenance, change, de-installation, and de-accessioning—are at the heart of the ISC’s publications and have featured prominently in our recent conference programs. We will continue to address the ever-changing field of public art and the issues that it raises in the months and years to come.
Come and join the dialogue—we welcome your input and comments.
Chairman, ISC Board of Directors
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