This is the third story in a three-part series.
This summer, the GoPro Mountain Games extreme sports competition will welcome its second year of a new event where whitewater rafters take on the Eagle River while seeing how many fish they can catch.
This competition, which takes place in this favorite place for action sports, proves the thesis that the art of fly fishing has officially reached the realm of the extreme. Now if only we had an extreme portrayal of fly fishing through art to commemorate its arrival?
The most valuable work of art in the city of Vail’s collection today is quite possibly a model of a fishing rod hanging from a tin can by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The model is a small-scale representation of an idea Oldenburg and van Bruggen had for the area near Chair 8 along Gore Creek in Lionshead, where the post would have been 60 feet high.
The 60ft tall version of Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s fishing rod is fun to imagine in 2021, where 60ft tall structures are common in Lionshead. In 1983, a humorous observation by Council member Ron Todd was that the play didn’t appeal to guests because they wouldn’t have to go off the freeway to see it. Today, the sculpture is unlikely to be visible at all from the highway, as the towers of the Arrabelle Hotel in Lionshead rise more than 80 feet from the ground.
The fishing rod element of the sculpture was questioned by locals at the time in a type of thinking like, “Vail is a ski town, not a fishing town.”
“I fished in Canada and skied in Vail,” Steve Damman of Madison, Wisconsin wrote to the Vail Trail in 1983. “How about a 60 foot tall piece of metal cast to look like a ski ? “
Vail Trail columnist John Jansen wrote: “A fishing rod is not really appropriate for the great mountain ski resort of Colorado.”
A few decades later, the town of Vail and Vail Mountain would undertake large-scale efforts to market the area as a fly fishing destination. In 2016, Vail hosted the World Fly Fishing Championships, parading teams from over 25 countries through Lionshead, just steps from where Oldenburg’s Fishing Rod and Tin Can and de van Bruggen would have been stationed.
But as the community questioned the post, the reluctance of Todd and other board members was directed more to the tin can at the end of the line. The can in 1983 was criticized as a metaphor for the destruction of nature, with council member Chuck Anderson saying the article went against the community’s “very strong environmental values”.
Seeing the can as a metaphor for environmental destruction was a leap in symbolism Oldenburg decried, saying the stream would turn the can into nature as it decomposes.
But if the destruction of the environment was seen by people at the time, they were not wrong. Thirty years later, Gore Creek made the state’s list of weathered waterways because development along the creek contributed to a drop in macrocardiograms, an overall indicator of poor stream health.
Oldenburg, in 1983, pointed out that Gore Creek created Vail.
“I realized that the essence of this particular site was the water, the stream,” Oldenburg told Vail City Council. “I’ve always felt Colorado’s subject was water, not the mountains. The creek and the stream water are the creative element of the Rocky Mountains. He shaped the Rocky Mountains and this valley.
Oldenburg said the fishing rod was meant to highlight the opening.
“It drives the mind through space and along the river,” he said.
Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s last piece premiered on March 26 at the Pace Gallery in New York. Oliver Shultz, curatorial director at Pace and Oldenburg / van Bruggen expert, said all of Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s sculptures were created because of the spaces they had to occupy.
“It’s not like Oldenburg and van Bruggen made sculptures and then later decided where to put them. They always offered their work as an answer to where it was going to be, ”said Shultz. “[The Vail project] was something where they thought very carefully about its location, the nature of the weather, and the changes – population, development, and economy – and all of those things that now look very different from a present point of view, and make the the work perhaps seems more prescient.
And in a final little foreshadowing, a September 1983 Vail Trail article described the mass media bandwagon effect that would continue to define 24-hour media coverage for years to come. History even went so far as to suggest that this effect could be a bad thing, although many Vail loved the attention the station was getting.
The great national attention to the Oldenburg-in-Vail story was somewhat unexpected, and the Vail Trail sought to explain it by interviewing the Associated Press to explain why they chose to feature the proposed sculpture in their US cover. .
“First, you had an internationally renowned artist and you had a community as famous as Vail,” the AP told The Trail. “Those two things – the artist and Vail – plus the fact that you have a conflict in a well-known community… made it a national story.
The bandwagon effect then continued.
“The editors in New York, who connected with their international editors and one in Washington and Chicago to compile the daily list, bought the story,” wrote Vail Trail reporter Duane Thompson in the September 9, 1983 edition of the journal. “The result has been kind of a bandwagon effect that, for better or worse, the American media often jump on.”