Sculpture Shock

SLU president Lawrence Biondi says he leased his Trova from the city fair and square, for $10 a year. Others beg to differ.

"My grandfather passed away in the 1970s," explains Arthur Baer's grandson, Terry Baer. "The sculpture was in his honor."

But when the convention center was remodeled in 1986, the sculpture was taken apart and stored in the building's basement. The move was supposed to be temporary, but a new home was never found. AV/Bedu collected dust until late 2000. That's when it suddenly appeared on the southwestern edge of the Saint Louis University campus.

AV/Bedu in its original location at the 
convention center, circa 1979
Pace Gallery
AV/Bedu in its original location at the convention center, circa 1979
Ernest Trova, shown here in a 1972 photo, rose to 
fame in the 1960s for his "Falling Man" series, which 
represented man's loss of identity in the machine 
Jennifer Silverberg
Ernest Trova, shown here in a 1972 photo, rose to fame in the 1960s for his "Falling Man" series, which represented man's loss of identity in the machine world.

Trova was furious when he discovered AV/Bedu's new location in the fall of 2001. The Ladue artist assumed the sculpture was still in the convention center's basement -- until a friend driving past the site recognized the piece and broke the news to Trova, says Robert Lococo, an Olivette art publisher who represents Trova's work.

"They said to him, 'Ernie, did you know that Bedu is the centerpiece of the O.K. Corral?'" Lococo recalls. "It does look like the O.K. Corral because of the fence around it. And the other pieces are sort of put on the site without a lot of thought."

Trova penned a note to Orchard shortly after he saw him at the Pulitzer museum, complaining that AV/Bedu had been "hijacked by Philistines." To Mayor Slay, Trova wrote: "I am outraged that my work has been sent to a vacant lot that could easily be an auto junkyard."

Terry Baer says his family was insulted when they weren't consulted about the sculpture's move. "My grandfather wouldn't have had anything against Saint Louis University, but it was given to the city," he says. "We should have been involved, and we weren't. That's my bewilderment."

In early 2002 Orchard went to city hall and discovered that Mayor Clarence Harmon's administration had leased AV/Bedu to the university. "The contract is a sham," Orchard fumes.

The October 2000 artwork lease was signed by Mike Jones, deputy mayor from 1997 to 2001. "It was collecting dust in the basement of the convention center, and this was a way to get it displayed," Jones explains. "We didn't move it from the center of a public square to the private confines of Saint Louis University where no one could see it."

According to a statement issued to the Riverfront Times by Saint Louis University, city officials offered AV/Bedu to the school. The statement came after numerous phone calls from the paper to Biondi and Kathleen Brady, SLU vice president for facilities management, went unreturned.

"The AV/Bedu sculpture came to Saint Louis University after the City of St. Louis asked SLU to display it," the statement says. "It is important to remember that this sculpture was donated to the city, and that it was the city's decision to offer it to SLU for display."

That's not the way Alicia Smith remembers it.

Smith, who was executive assistant to Mayor Harmon, says Biondi approached her about AV/Bedu during a meeting about downtown development in late 1999 or early 2000. "He said he heard it was just in storage some place, and that he had a site on campus and would be interested if the city didn't have a place to display it," Smith recalls.

What Biondi didn't mention was that back in 1994, he and Adam Aronson, who served on SLU's Board of Regents art committee, tried unsuccessfully to move AV/Bedu from the convention center to the SLU campus. At the time, Trova gave his OK but made it clear that he wanted a say in how and where it was installed. Trova also insisted that the Baer family give its blessing to the move and that architect Gyo Obata design a new granite base.

After several months of inquiries, Biondi dropped his campaign because of opposition from city-hall bureaucrats who wanted the sculpture to remain on city property. In August 1994, Biondi wrote to Trova: "We would, of course, still enjoy the opportunity to mount the piece with your specifications and supervision, but it doesn't seem likely that it will happen soon, given the apparent political ramifications."

Both Smith and Jones said they were unaware of Trova's stipulations. "Had we been aware of any conditions, we most assuredly would have contacted [Trova]," Jones says.

Bruce Sommer, director of America's Center, was one of nine people, including Biondi, who received the 1994 letter from Trova. Although he and Smith discussed moving the sculpture to SLU, he did not tell the mayor's assistant about the conditions listed in Trova's letter.

"My only responsibility was to make sure it was properly stored," Sommer says.

Initially Biondi wanted to display the sculpture inside the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, but the city's legal department objected. Even though city attorneys were unable to find any documentation on the sculpture, Smith says, "We knew there was some sort of agreement out there" that required the sculpture to be mounted in a public place -- which the art museum is not.

Orchard maintains that Aronson, the former president of Mark Twain Bancshares, had a hand in moving AV/Bedu to the campus. Aronson was involved in moving five smaller Trova sculptures from Laumeier Sculpture Park to SLU. But Smith says Aronson played no role in the city leasing AV/Bedu to the university and Aronson, in turn, says Biondi should not be at the middle of the controversy either.

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