by Michael R. Allen
On land once part of a thoroughfare renamed for our native superstar Josephine Baker now rises a menagerie of sculptures. In 2007, the city closed this block and deeded the land to St. Louis University, which planted grass. The university had just demolished a historic livery stable building at the northwest corner of the intersection for yet another giant Grand Center surface parking lot used sporadically for special events. The demolition and the resulting gaping asphalt heat island dealt a blow to nascent renewal on Locust Street, but the area has recovered somewhat. The little strip of closed street has even begun to become something other than an unpleasant lawn.
The lawn now sports this sultry nude, whose most private parts are tastefully concealed by earth and sand — yet the shapely parts that identify her as woman are evident to freshman and Fox patron alike. The careless reviewers who call this statue a mere figural representation of a naked young woman in a wading pool are incorrect. The intent of the artist no doubt is complex, and I surely am stumbling in my interpretation. Still, the lady clearly represents fair beauty Grand Center, with one foot playfully set upward suggesting the whimsy of the performing arts. The sand, however, represents the ominous force of parking lots. Our damsel is smiling yet actually is in distress.
The paradox inscribed in a single statue is powerful, and far more useful to our citizens than any block of street or any nod to a long-gone banana-skirt-wearing dancer. Right?