by Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org)
i’ve come to realize that there are two sorts of genius in this world. since we are ‘dualists’ in western culture (at least since descartes), it’s not an odd thing to see. there is, of course, the genius of mind. people like albert einstein naturally fit into this category. then there is the genius of action, a slightly more difficult realm to see. but the ‘genius of action’ has astonishing instincts and a ‘just do it’ mindset that takes that person into the furthest realms of result. edward teller may be a fairly good fit into the realm of the man of action.
there always seems to be a pairing of the two to actually accomplish historical progress in our culture. neither seems to work very well without the other. for every verlaine, there is a rimbaud. for every MC5, there is a stooges. on rare occasions, we get them BOTH in one person. could either einstein or teller have become the father of the nuclear bomb alone? not. they both needed a robert oppenheimer. as a culture, we usually have to destroy, even kill, these particular “lynchpin” people. they’re just too good at what they do and it freaks us out.
when i lived in st. louis (from the years 2000 to the year 2006), i encountered a true man of action, an undeniable genius. but intellectually, everyone knew he was lacking the ability to articulate his ideas. in interviews and public appearances, he was so unable to actually talk about his thoughts and feelings that he came off as damaged, even dangerously nutso. yet, he accomplished such amazing impossible feats and created such astonishing art and became so powerful economically and politically that the entire city stood back in awe and just let him BE. it’s as if the whole of st. louis was afraid of this guy. maybe they were.
bob cassily was a sort of mix of his original childhood vision of that roadside attraction famously known as “the house on the rock” (a crazed visionary structure in a crazy site that was built by instinct and genius and (some say) madness. robert cassily visited this place as a child and it possessed him for the rest of his life. he became an incredibly talented sculptor of cement – his chosen medium. he could literally do and create and build ANYTHING out of concrete. his sculptures and structures pepper the entire st. louis area and are as notable and recognizable as, well, just about anything you could imagine. it made him a beloved local public artist.
bob also invested in st. louis real estate and wrangled some magnificent ‘deals’ that left him independently wealthy. he used this new wealth and the power of his public art to buy an abandoned shoe factory in downtown st. louis (for a song. the city is littered with abandoned factory buildings). he used this poured cement 10-story structure as the starting point of his greatest achievment – the city museum.
cassily was also a mad craphound, a junkyard dog, a collector of everything and anything. he bought up old scrap and truckloads of dealers selling their stuff made a virtual parade route to the city museum, where cassily would buy damn near anything, warehouses full of whatnot. with that material – along with his magnificent concrete work – was the raw material of what became ‘the city museum’. it’s hard to describe the city museum. the entire interior was gutted and redesigned and re-habbed into what can only be described as a giant art installation. it’s part visionary environment, part junkyard, part interactive museum and all fun-house. it’s almost impossible to describe, you just have to make the effort to visit it someday. you won’t be sorry. it may be someday recognized as one of the greatest art masterpieces of the late 20th century.
to give at least a LITTLE idea of what this place is like, imagine a huge ten-story cement factory building. the exterior is decorated with old school busses, airplanes, log cabins, stone church towers, fire engines and wrought iron and concrete chutes and ladders and fire pits and massive peices of discarded industrial machinery and all festooned with thousands and thousands of glass marbles, metal sprockets, coiled rusting rebar, welded together walls of metal tables and chairs, bowling balls, dead trees, giant insect sculptures, concrete dragons and on and on and on. this exterior structure extends out of the front of the building, across a rapidly shrinking parking lot and towers at least 3 or 4 stories in the air. it’s full of ramps and tunnels and chutes and rooms for kids to crawl through like a gigantic jungle gym. and this is just the front entrance to the place. the interior is like a fun-house playground rat’s warren of astonishing environments and machines and cement and artwork all made of discarded materials salvaged by cassily.
but, he didn’t stop there, either. he dug underneath the building and created a cave system with concrete tunnels that also act as a maze and a KALEIDOSCOPE! go figger that one out, eh? on top of the roof of the building, he planned (and actually started) to build an entire ‘iron city’ (made of old metal storefronts and architectural elements scrounged from the city’s rotting historical buildings as they collapse). the roof city is still under construction and is starting to look like a floating sci-fi dreamscape sitting on a giant ten story cement pedestal. again, hard to describe.
to top it all off, you
slide down the entire structure inside – from the roof city to the caves below – on a giant corkscrew metal helter-skelter slide that was originally used to transport finished shoes down the building to lower floors. this thing is like being stuck in a whirling corkscrew fun-house slide – FOR OVER TEN STORIES! the place is beyond incredible.
cassily had bigger visions as well, across the mississippi river in illinois, he purchased and old cement plant (naturally). he started to gather his collections of materials out there and began a giant landscaping project, terra-forming the grounds of the plant into an exterior version/vision of his city museum. the cement plant itself was to become an even larger tribute/vision than the city museum, a ‘history of cement’ sort of environment that cassily planned to work on for the rest of his life. that is, until the bulldozer he was driving rolled over and killed him a few months ago.
bob cassily’s sudden early death was a mixed blessing for st. louis. he was a notoriously demanding and headstrong individual with seemingly no empathy for other people at all. he was capable of great physical violence (the stories are endless. i personally knew at least three people who told me stories of physical injuries that should have been criminally prosecuted). he could barely speak directly TO people any more, but seemed to mumble to himself ABOUT the person he was “conversing” with. it was unnerving. he was absolute murder before an audience. some of his press conferences were so bizarre he made headline news. the entire power structure of st. louis was afraid of him and his activities – one, because the city museum was one of the biggest regional draws for the tourist dollar and two, because he owned or controlled vast areas of the downytown region. he was not a man to let others stand in his way, but would casually stomp right over them like they weren’t even there. so, the city left him alone.
the city museum had no blueprint, no plan, no vision outside of cassily’s whim and command – and NO inspections. everything was in his head and held together by sheer mass. in all honesty, the place was a death trap. i doubt he would have been able to actually build the city museum in any other city in the world without the various political and economic powers coming down on him and stopping him. he had great difficulty finding insurance coverage and often just went without it (i read in the papers). but, st. louis is so corrupt and fucked-up that they just let the man go on and on, unchecked.
so, now this complete genius of action has left behind a very very confusing and astonishing legacy. what to do? nobody knows. but, the old crew just keeps building on it. the guy should have been internationally famous, except for the fact he lived in st. louis. he was a huge fish in a small pond and he ran it like his personal empire.
all that said, bob cassily actually has one other legacy that we should be thankful to him for all over the entire world. he did something that has enriched every single one of us everywhere there are people alive. it was maybe his greatest creation as “a genius of action.”
back in the 1960′s, in italy, a madman attacked michelangelo’s masterpiece, “the pieta” (pictured above). he shouted some sort of political drivel about stopping the commies or god knows what. he rushed up to the sculpture and just started wailing on it with a hammer, immediately sending precious pieces flying off. left alone, the guy was going to destroy one of the mankind’s greatest objects of beauty.
well, standing BEHIND that madman in the line was a young tourist named robert cassily. being an incredibly strong huge POWERFUL man (he worked with concrete as his medium!), and being a man of action, not ideas, bob jumped the fucker. he wrestled the madman with the hammer down onto the ground and started beating on him. then the museum guards regained footing and piled on them both, arresting them both in a scuffle. after the dust settled, the damage to the pieta was determined to be minor and repairable. bob cassily became a hero for a day, then forgotten.
yup, old mean dead bob cassily, genius artist, man of action, AND hero. he was the guy who single-handedly saved michelangelo’s pieta from destruction.
AC:another excellent cassily story: in one area of tunnels and trails that included water features, he had an old cement mixing bucket device that still worked on it’s axle/hinge. water would trickle into the “pig” (as it was called) and fill it until the weight of the water would throw the thing off balance and it would tip over and pour all the water out in a big GUSH into a little stream-like ditch – all in one big splash. standing next to it would always get you wet and the kids would squeal with delight. one day some a family visiting from florida were watching this thing operate and their little girl reached up and grabbed the rough rusty edge of the bucket as it dumped the water. it flipped back up into it’s upright position and CUT OFF a couple of her fingers! all hell broke loose and blood was everywhere. threats of legal action were raised. cassily held a press conference and accused the girl of being stupid and deserved to get her fingers cut off. then he reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a couple of fake rubber fingers and presented them to the press right there, pretending they were the little girl’s actual torn-off fingers! he did this at a PRESS CONFERENCE!!! in front of the whole world – even news cameras! i guess he was forced to fork over a large cash settlement after that one (no contest). that’s the kind of guy he was. very strange….
…the comic who played sarducci , don novello used the ‘toth’ alias to write a voluminous letters to famous people in hopes of getting a response. the letters were (needless to say) ridiculous and downright crazy. he eventually published an hilarious book called “the lazlo toth letters’, where he would publish the letter and then publish the responses. some of the famous folks went back and forth with long correspondences – all of it completely bonkers. it’s a laff riot….
…. i stood and watched that thing “puke” many many times and i always jumped back when it flipped back up because it was close enough to my face that it surprised me. i do remember a short ‘splash guard’ or perhaps channeling device (to steer the water) that was at best a couple feet tall (i remember shorter). but, there was no “5 ft.’ barrier there. maybe after the ‘incident’, but not before. but, we’re all working from memory here…. when it comes to whether she was a “little girl” or a “20 year old”? well, i’m almost 60. ’20′ is still ‘a little girl’ from my perspective. lol!…frankly, a big part of the thrill of that place is how far out-if-control it appears. the fact that sometimes it really is? that’s total gravy.