Arts & Culture
Firebrand: The McNay celebrates controversial artist Luis Jiménez
Published: November 13, 2013
Luis Jiménez’s Man on Fire fuses the god Prometheus, whose myth inspired the Mexican muralists, with Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor whose fire torture at the hands of Spanish conquistadors became legendary.
Despite his work’s reputation for inflaming community passions, Jiménez has become one of the McNay’s most-collected contemporary Texas artists. In celebration of the installation of the 7-foot-tall burnt-red Man on Fire bronze sculpture on the Brown Foundation Sculpture Terrace, the McNay Art Museum presents “Native Son: Prints and Drawings by LuisA. Jiménez.”
While the Man on Fire image can be traced to Jose Clemente Orozco’s Man in Flames—painted in the late 1930s at the former Hospicio Cabañas in Guadalajara, Mexico—the sculpture was born during the tumultuous 1960s when Buddhist monks were immolating themselves to protest the Vietnam War.
But Man on Fire is a prescient self-portrait as well. Jiménez struggled to bridge the New York contemporary art world and his own Mexican-American heritage as the son of an El Paso sign painter. Tragically, he died in 2006 in his studio in Hondo, N.M., when a large section of a monumental sculpture the 65-year-old artist was molding for the Denver International Airport, Blue Mustang, fell on his leg and severed an artery.
Like most of Jiménez’s large public sculptures, Blue Mustang, a 32-foot-tall, 9,000-pound blue-fiberglass rearing wild horse with blazing red eyes, has stirred controversy. Jiménez’s staff and family completed the sculpture in 2008, only to be met with demands it be removed from the airport site after people dubbed it “Bluecifer” and “Satan’s Stallion.” Denver decided to give the Blue Mustang five years before citizens could petition for its removal, but so far in 2013, it’s still standing. Purchased by the city for $650,000, Blue Mustang is now appraised at $2 million.
Jiménez’s sculpture has been controversial in San Antonio, too. Installed nearly 20 years ago as a loan to the University of Texas at San Antonio, Crossing the Border, a father carrying his son on his shoulders across the Rio Grande, has been condemned by conservatives for “glorifying illegal immigration,” but it’s still on view overlooking the Sombrilla Plaza at the 1604 campus. However, Fiesta Dancers, commissioned by UTSA in 1996 for the University Center, is a beloved landmark.