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Denver Airport’s Puzzling, Disconcerting Artwork

Once upon a time, there was a sculptor who had been hired to create a statue of a galloping mustang, and he’d spent over a decade on the project. The commissioners lost their patience with the length of the project, and a bitter war was waged as multiple deadlines came and went. The sculptor wanted the mustang to be perfect – with eyes that glowed like the neon in his father’s shop so many years ago. He wanted every nuance impeccably rendered on the brightly colored horse. But one day, as he put the finishing touches on the statue, its head broke off and fell square on top of the artist, severing an artery in his leg and killing him. The piece was repaired, and, as the commissioners had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars and waited many years, it was finally installed – with the blessing of the artist’s widow.

This statue, however, is no ordinary statue. The horse looks like it had been designed with its nefarious destiny in mind, as the eyes shine with red lights in vivid contrast to the blue muscular body. And the home for this murderous mustang? The entrance to Denver International Airport, where it looks like less as a welcome but more as a warning.

“Blucifer,” as it’s somewhat affectionately known to locals, is one of many strange features of the largest international airport in the United States. I’ve spent tons of time walking the terminals in this airport since it opened in 1994, both for work and visiting family. As some of these artworks were installed, I’d kind of appreciated the jarring and strange feeling they’d impart. Their edginess felt realer and more important than pictures of sunsets and other fluff one might find elsewhere. However, it seems like their choice of artwork get more and more questionable as time goes on. Here are some more examples.

The murals

One of the best known murals in the airport is Leo Tanguma’s “Children Of The World Dream Peace.” The colorful painting depicts a massive, ghastly SS soldier in a full-face gas mask, the eyes on which have managed to scrunch up with an intense, alarming amount of hatred. Add to that the children laid out motionless at the end of his sword and in the weeping arms of their mothers and you’ll kill every last bit of the warm fuzzies you have while waiting to pick Nana up from her flight. The painting, as morbid as it looks, is not quite as dark as it might initially seem; most of the children are merely sleeping through the terrors of the era they’re in, and world peace is achieved in the preceding mural on the left, with the death of the soldier causing the celebration of all the world’s youngsters in harmony. The order the adjoining paintings are in look like the scenario started out peacefully and then went to ruin, but the artist intended it to be viewed right to left – not the other way around. Something most people probably don’t assume would be the case.

Another painting by Tanguma, “In Peace And Harmony With Nature,” presents another sobering scene, in which children again are confronted with tough life lessons as they mourn the graphic destruction of nature. Three caskets lay open with dead bodies inside, one of whom is a child. Between them and several sobbing, horrified children lies a perished cheetah. A bloodied whale takes presumably its last leap as it heads toward a forest engulfed in flames. Some of the children are trying to contain some of the last of the earth’s animals in protective cases, as one girl holds what is said to be part of the Mayan tablet predicting the apocalypse.

After looking at all this depressing and unsettling art, you’re going to need a vacation. Good thing you’re already at the airport, I guess.

Anubis

Anyone who has ever traveled in the past sixteen years would unequivocally say that going through security is the most stressful part of the whole experience. Tensions run high as all are hurried through with instructions barked out by uniformed agents as time ticks down before departure. For those who may be afraid to fly, this is probably even worse. So who, then, wouldn’t be comforted by a 26-foot tall figure of the God of the Dead staring in through the windows immediately adjacent to the checkpoint?

The ill-advised but short-lived visit from the canine-like god was to promote the Denver Art Museum’s King Tut exhibit, but most found that it did less to pique people’s interest in history than it did to just bug people out. Reminding people who are about to board commercial aircraft about their own mortality seconds before entrusting their lives to a stranger tends not to sit well. Shocker!

There are so many more strange things about Denver International Airport, and the topic is a favorite of conspiracy theorists. Here’s where you can find most of the theories – swastika-shaped runways, underground bunkers, and the New World Order, for starters. Most people can agree at least that all these artworks are very odd for the setting. Whether you fall into the Mulder or Scully category, it’s worth checking out if you ever visit DIA. (Denver Illuminati Association…?)

[Photo: Eric Golub/Creative Commons]

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3 Comments
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TechMarauder July 4, 2017

I always thought it was a Bronco at the entrance... it is Broncos a Country!

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Erik Jacobsen July 1, 2017

No mention of the Lizard Men? I'm disappointed.

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Ilsa43 June 27, 2017

I *do* like a post-apocalyptic vibe in artwork. I am all about getting in touch with my past experience of the Cold War, ("Blucifer" is a completely hilarious name, BTW) but the TSA offers about as much Iron Curtain as I can handle when it comes to airports. TSA is a joke. I find their inability to prevent light-fingered agents from getting hired in the first place TOTALLY unacceptable, let alone their unblemished record of ever catching a terrorist.