Ten years ago, Steve Grossman and Becky Reinhold were at a Rotary Club meeting, trying to drum up support for a new public art project called Horse Mania that would populate the streets of Lexington with fiberglass horses decorated by area artists.
"People thought we were nuts," Reinhold says.
After the meeting, Grossman says, all the participants were clustered around a sample horse, and "I looked at a friend of mine, and he said, 'It will never fly.'"
Reinhold says, "They liked the horse, but they just didn't understand the concept."
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Ten years later, the Horse Mania concept has flown twice.
The second edition, Horse Mania 2010, is all over now but the bidding.
The 82 painted horses that made up the public art display from mid-July until late October on Lexington streets will be up for bid in an auction Friday night at Keeneland that will benefit LexArts and 84 local charities.
Bidding for each horse starts at $3,700, but there are hopes that some might reach the heights achieved by Damon Farmer's Stonewall, which topped the 2000 Horse Mania auction at $53,000.
"It's been a lot smoother," Grossman says of the 2010 edition. "We didn't have to think about things like the anchors and pallets like before. We kind of created everything from scratch the first time. So it's been much easier from a logistics standpoint."
But it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Delivery of many of the horses to artists earlier this year was delayed by weather and other complications. Then sidewalk and road construction downtown, in preparation for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, delayed the horses' charge onto the streets.
But after they were out, say Grossman and Reinhold, co-chairs of Horse Mania 2010, and Lexarts president and chief executive Jim Clark, the public display went smoothly and avoided the disasters that befell some of the horses in 2000. One of them was hit by a car; another had its legs snapped when a man tried to ride it; one blew over several times during storms, and one was stolen and later found.
Some children were occasionally shooed off the backs of this year horses by LexArts officials, and a few fell over, Clark said, but the main problems were with people picking at horses adorned with objects. One victim was Le Coeur de Cheval (The Heart of the Horse) by artist Elizabeth Dryden, which stood in front of the Lexington Opera House. It was adorned with metal bolts and bottle caps.
"Most of the horses were left alone," Clark said. "Most of the artists understood there was going to be wear and tear."
For the most part, the Horse Mania experience consisted of people running around downtown to get their pictures taken with favorite horses.
"I think the quality of the horses was better this time, partially because the artists better understood what this was about," Grossman says.
When the horses were taken off the street, Clark says, there were numerous comments from people who wished the display was permanent.
One of the most amusing complaints was from some people who thought Circus Horse, the Horse Mania 2000 horse that stands at High Street and South Ashland Avenue, was mistakenly taken in the roundup of Horse Mania 2010 horses. That's not the case. Circus Horse is taken in every year to protect it from winter weather.
Clark says the thing people need to understand is that the sale of the Horse Mania horses will benefit artists, charities and a fund to create more public art projects. The ArtsPlace gallery currently features a display of proposed public art projects that could be financed by the auction.
And having had the exhibit on the streets during the World Equestrian Games might help boost proceeds.
"People have called from the United Arab Emirates, Sweden, California, Virginia, Montana," Clark says, "so we're getting all these calls asking about shipping, average prices, can you buy them in advance? No, you can't."
As at the first Horse Mania auction, prospective buyers may call in bids, but they must have a representative at the auction who is authorized to bid for them, just as at a regular horse auction.
Clark says there might be a larger pool of horses that go for more than $20,000. But none of the organizers is going to predict another $53,000 sale.
Asked about prospects for Horse Mania 2020, Clark, who did not come to LexArts until 2002, says, "I wish my successor all the luck in the world. I think there can only be one Horse Mania per president."