The 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Legacy that never happened

Anne-Patrick-Poirier-1990-Munich-Sculpture-Oculus- Memoriae-Detail-from-Flickr-User-Digital-Cat (681x1024)

Today the Olympics in Sochi begin.

Today I also take a quick look back to the Olympics in Calgary and a major controversy involving public art.

In the years leading up to the Olympics a committee of arts professionals and interested parties was struck to commission an international artist or artists to create a major legacy sculpture for the Olympic Organizing Committee.  It was to stand in the NW corner of the Olympic Plaza across the street from the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer and the Convention Centre. This was to be a gift to the City and its citizens and visitors alike.

Long story short. Parisian artists Anne and Patrick Poirier who are kind of a big deal artists (even then) were successfully chosen to be the artists commissioned to complete this work. The jury made what I believe to be a very smart decision in this regard. Granted, I have not seen their proposal, nor have I seen the competing proposals for this commission. However, having said that, I am aware of some of the short-listed artists and their work.

This quote from Wikipedia describes Anne and Patrick Poirier’s practice (as translated to English from the original entry in the Larrouse Encyclopedia):

  • Their oeuvre has always dealt with themes surrounding memory, archeology, ruins, memento mori, disintegration, loss and remembering. As they articulate it, “we believe that ignorance or the destruction of cultural memory brings in its wake every sort of oblivion, falsehood and excess and that we must, with all the modest means at our disposal, oppose this generalized amnesia and destruction.”

Although I am not aware of what the work proposed for the 1988 Winter Olympics commission looked like, I have extrapolated from various sources the type of work that they were doing at that time. The image reproduced above is a detail of a larger work. It also contains part of a human form – especially the face – in addition to the column seen above. All which paid tribute to Greco-Roman cultural history. It also is somewhat indicative of what the artists were doing during that timeframe and as described would lend itself to an official Olympic site. There is also a similar work, from a similar timeframe, located at 1201 Third Avenue (formerly the Washington Mutual Building) in Seattle. It would therefore seem reasonable that something like this could easily have found a home in Calgary.

Although the commission was agreed to by the committee, it was never completed and ended up being a huge fiasco (let’s just leave it at that). There was a large uproar about this sculpture and I suspect when it was all said and done, probably a few bodies were later found under a bus.  It also occupied a fair bit of ink from columnists and letters to the editor of the day. Ironically, (side note here) I am fascinated given this context, that yet another letter to the editor somehow found its way onto the pages of the Calgary Sun this morning which talks about the Blue Ring.

How apropos.

Around the same time as the Poirier commission, a small, discretely placed, bronze Greek running athlete which is probably an Italian 19th century copy of an antique was generously donated to the City by the Devonian Foundation.  Many have probably walked past many times not knowing it is even there.  It is a very good sculpture for the site (just as the Poirier sculpture probably would have been) and is thoughtfully, well situated.

It would be very interesting to speculate what changes might have happened if the Poirier sculpture commission was actually completed and installed as planned in the heart of downtown in the 26 years that have elapsed since the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Would it have changed anything?

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