“The Rhythm Section” invades University City

Student Art on Display

| Scene Reporter
When senior Emily Silber learned that one of her sculptures had been purchased for permanent installation, she had mixed emotions.

“I felt excited and a little nervous because I had never done anything like this before,” she said. “My roommates and I were screaming, and I immediately called my parents.”

Silber’s work, entitled “The Rhythm Section,” was installed in the windows of the Centennial Commons in University City in October. The sculpture consists of five silhouetted dancers in various poses, each painted in a different bright color.

“First, the silhouettes were going to go in front of the dance school and the music school,” she said. “I was thinking of the energies that go on in the building.”

Silber first created “The Rhythm Section” last March for an annual competition sponsored by the University City Arts and Letters Commission in which Washington University juniors propose sculptures to be placed in front of the Center of Contemporary Arts and the 560 Building on Delmar. Six students were chosen, but all winners’ work was removed from the location in May.

“It was an exciting and also frustrating process,” she said. “My favorite part was working with my friends. I had every one of my friends helping me. It was a lot of fun just listening to music and painting.”

Silber gave a speech at the installation of her sculpture, and it was after this speech that she first met Tom McCarthy, the assistant recreation superintendent of University City and the man who would send her that fateful e-mail months later.

“He came up and talked to me and said, ‘We’d like to put your sculptures in front of our building,’” Silber explained. “He didn’t talk about making it permanent yet.”

It was last summer that McCarthy informed her that he wanted to buy her sculpture.

As it stood, “The Rhythm Section” was made of foam and rebar, not material capable of surviving for years on end. The University City Arts and Letters Commission paid an extra $2,900 to coat it in fiberglass and to give it a concrete base.

This is not the first time Silber has had one of her pieces publicly displayed. This year she also presented a sculpture called “Sinking Playhouse” for a political art competition. The sculpture, which stood near the South 40 basketball courts, was a miniature house half-buried in the ground.

“That [sculpture] was about the economic crisis and about how so many people are losing their homes,” Silber explained. “I thought of it as a playhouse, and I think of college as a playhouse for [kids] our age to define ourselves and figure out who we are.”

“Maybe we are thinking differently now that there is this economic crisis,” she added.

After college, Silber would like to complete a Master’s of Fine Arts degree and ultimately buy a studio of her own. She has also considered teaching sculpture at a university, as well as working with architects to design artistic spaces around public buildings.

Whatever she does, part of her résumé will always be in St. Louis, free for everyone to see.


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