It's predators versus prey in Missoula public art

| June 21, 2001

Anyone who remembers Jesse Helms’ fashionable outrage over that picture of the soaking crucifix, or anyone who has weathered the wicked caprices of Manhattan’s art market, knows that predation is nothing new in the world of American art. But in Missoula, that idea has often been taken literally. Just have a look around the Missoula International Airport, where flight-weary locals and unsuspecting tourists are subjected to display after display of either predator or prey, usually in stuffed-and-propped form. Everywhere you look, it seems, you find natural life that has been turned into still life. There’s the giant grizzly at the top of the stairs, standing ensconced in a big glass box. There are the animal hides over the security checkpoint with bucolic wildlife scenes shaved into them. And, of course, there’s the curious tableau that hovers above you while you’re waiting for the buzzer to sound at the baggage claim: a stuffed puma with a glassy-eyed mountain goat trapped in its clutches. For sure, Missoula may very well be the only city in the world where taxidermy passes for public art.

But now, displays of life-and-death confrontations are no longer limited to stuffed trophy animals and PBS nature shows. In fact, the airport is planning to take its favorite motif to a whole new level. Last week, Bigfork artist Dick Idol announced that he has been commissioned to make a massive sculpture for the airport lobby. And the subject matter? You guessed it: predator versus prey.

The piece, entitled Wilderness Standoff (pictured here), will be a large-scale bronze, depicting a pack of wolves stalking a herd of elk, and it will stand some 13 feet tall. But as if its sheer drama and great dimensions weren’t enough, the piece is also planned to feature running water, flashy lighting and sound effects. The resulting “interactive bronze monument,” as promoters describe it, is scheduled to be unveiled in the spring of 2002, but they warn that the deadline might pass unmet without the help of some generous local folks and deep-pocketed corporate citizens.

A group calling itself Missoula Patrons of Wildlife is now actively seeking contributions to pay for Idol’s mammoth diorama. Although they don’t offer any hard numbers—“we don’t want to put a price on it just yet,” one promoter said—they promise that sufficiently sizeable donations will be rewarded with an engraved plaque at the base of the sculpture, as well as a miniature of the wolf-stalking scene itself. So if this sounds like your kind of art, now’s your chance to help continue Missoula’s long tradition of mixing the pursuit of art with the thrill of the hunt. Call the project’s sponsorship hotline at 1-800-398-1919.

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