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Matt Strauss and the bust of his father, Leon Strauss. Photograph by Byron Kerman
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What’s it like to have a statue of your father erected in your city? Doesn’t it seem as if it might be a touch… surreal?
For Matt Strauss, owner of the White Flag Projects Gallery, a bust—and an urban pocket park—created in honor of his father, developer Leon Strauss, is a physical object to be reckoned with, in a public place.
I was wondering if there’s a part of his father in the statue, so to speak, such that Matt feels a twinge of something when he sees it. Could the son even, say, approach the image of the father and speak to it, if he had a problem?
How did you feel when you learned they would be erecting a statue of your dad in a public place?
At the time I was working very closely with Ernie Trova, and the casting was going on at the same foundry where I was, at the same time, so I saw it as it was being made. The first time I saw it, it looked really dead, because it didn’t yet have pupils. When they placed it, the bigger deal was the park, not the statue. At the time we were happy that his work in the city was being acknowledged. There’s a second one at the Webster Community Music School at Faust Park.
One interesting thing is, the eye height of the statue is exactly my eye height.
Does it truly look like your father?
It’s a fair representation—kind of. It’s exaggerated. It seems exaggerated to me. His nose wasn’t that big, or his lips.
Jason Robards looks more like him in some spaghetti Western.
Is it too “heroic”?
It’s not like it’s looking down onto a giant reservoir in Forest Park or something. It’s facing the Fox. The box office. Which is appropriate. [Laughs.] It is an oversized head, but in art-historical terms, he’s not riding a horse or holding a speech, so it’s not heroic.
He was a civic leader, and in all honesty this neighborhood [Grand Center] wouldn’t be here had he and others not done what they did for Grand Center and the Symphony. In the early’80s, it was very rough over here.
People are always defacing public art. Has that been a concern?
I think people do rub the nose; the nose is a little shinier.
If you were having a problem, could you go talk to the statue?
No. This isn’t a Rocky movie, where you talk to dead mentors.
You have your own copy of the statue, too, you told me. What’s that like?
I don’t assign any mystical qualities to it. I have it in storage. I don’t know what I’ll do with it. I used to think about putting it on the roof of my building. Maybe someday I’ll have a garden and I’ll have him hide in the bushes. [Laughs.] If I’m ever fortunate enough to have kids—on purpose—it would be their grandpa. My niece is 3, and she calls the statue in Grand Center “Grandpa.”
Has having a statue of your dad in the world taken some getting used to?
Not really. When I’m in St. Louis these days, it’s for work, and I think a lot when I’m coming back here about the meaning of working here, and there’s this idea of my parents and the culture here. I’ll never have that kind of impact here, but the statue is a reminder of what you can do. I frequently think about whether my dad would like what we’re doing at White Flag. I don’ think he would like the art. [Laughs.] It does remind me of my dad. I had a very close relationship with him. In fact, I wear his belt every day—I’ve had it adjusted four times.
One surreal thing is the Murphy Lee video where at one point he raps at my dad’s statue.