CULTIVATING GREAT ART
institution in Grand Center attracts international attention.
Dubbed as one of the “finest small museums of our time,” in a New
Yorker article by architecture critic Paul Goldberger, the Pulitzer
Foundation for the Arts has already proven its value to the region.
According to Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker architecture critic,
the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts facility designed by famed
architect Tadao Ando, located at 3716 Washington Boulevard in Grand
Center, “is the most important building in St. Louis since the Wainwright
Building was completed in 1891.”
The Foundation recently opened its facility at 3716 Washington Boulevard
in Grand Center. The stunning new building was designed by famed
Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Inside, 37 pieces of modern art are
displayed. Two were commissioned for the space: Ellsworth Kelly’s
“Blue Black” and Richard Serra’s “Joe,” named for the late Joseph
Tadao Ando, famed architect of the Pulitzer Foundation.
The artists worked with the architect in the creation and placement
of their works, and the architect made adjustments to the building
to respond to the artists’ needs. This created an unusual and especially
successful collaboration. At a press conference on October 12, one
of the facility’s opening events, foundation founder and president
Emily Rauh Pulitzer called it a “happy dialogue.”
The Pulitzer Foundation director Laurie Stein outlined the organization’s
four focuses at the press conference:
Stein also had
a simpler goal, “that we’ll be a conduit for cultural involvement
and for community involvement.” An example may shed light. The foundation
has undertaken a joint effort with the Saint Louis Art Museum and
the Forum for Contemporary Art to train modern art docents. That’s
good, because the appreciation of any art benefits from a little
instruction. Weekly since opening, two to three university classes
studying art, architecture, and in one case literature, had class
sessions in the building.
interrelationship of contemporary art, architecture and
resonance of arts institutions within their communities,
including the relationship of cultural growth to physical
and social context
shifting framework of public and private art initiatives
reverberation and synergy among visual and performing
arts, and literature.
Already, the Foundation is fulfilling one of its missions, to serve
artists, architects and students.
The public has access to the Foundation on Wednesdays (1 to 7 p.m.)
and Saturdays (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) Fifty people will be admitted
every half hour. The limited numbers are intended to ensure “that
visitors can have a tranquil experience,” Pulitzer said. “We find
that people stay a long time. If it doesn’t satisfy the demand,
we’ll reassess.” Groups of five or more should call for reservations,
Growing up, Pulitzer was exposed to modern and contemporary art,
and she “lived in the first modern [architectural style] house in
Cincinnati...that had a strong effect on my appreciation of art
and architecture,” Pulitzer said.
She went on to major in art history at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
She also studied at the Ecole de Louvre, interned at the Cincinnati
Art Museum, and became assistant curator of drawings at Harvard’s
Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, Mass.
There she met Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., of the newspaper family—the
majority owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other properties.
“He was on the Harvard visiting committee,” she said, “and one of
the few St. Louisans I had met prior to moving here.”
In 1964, she moved here to be curator of the Saint Louis Art Museum.
In 1973, she married Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., who had been widowed
Brad Cloepfil, a Seattle-based architect designing a new building
for the Forum for Contemporary Art, which will be adjacent to the
Ando building, said Ando is one of the “two or three architects
in the last 50 years responsible for the evolution of architecture
in the later part of the 20th century.” Cloepfil said Ando rescued
architecture from being “scaleless. He made it more human, more
tactile; he returned the soul to modern space.”
In commenting on the very different experience of the building from
the outside and the inside, Cloepfil said, “His buildings are really
about the interior space.” Ando said the interior created a sense
that it was a “place of possibilities.” A long, still reflecting
pool between the two wings engenders thoughts of infinity.
Pulitzer is pleased. So are others, even New Yorkers. Goldberger
further wrote in The New Yorker “Ando’s two-story concrete
building is the greatest work of architecture to go up in St. Louis
since 1891 when Louis Sullivan’s Wainwright Building—the first skyscraper
that can be called a fully resolved, mature work of art—opened.
The Pulitzer Foundation and the Wainwright building are both small,
dense, and emotionally powerful buildings. Ando has thought through
the idea of the small museum with the same freshness and beauty
that Sullivan brought more than a century ago to the idea of the
high-rise office building.”
Moreover, in the same story, which appeared in the publication’s
Nov. 5 issue, Goldberger compares Ando to yet another well-known
architect. “The building is comparable to the work of Louis Kahn,
but it seems more rigorous and less fussy than Kahn’s. The only
small museum in America worthy of comparison to the Pulitzer Foundation
is Kahn’s Kimbell, in Fort Worth, yet the Kimbell seems almost busy
An exhibition of models, films, drawings and photos of Ando’s work
are at the Saint Louis Art Museum until December 30. “It’s spectacular,”
says museum director Brent Benjamin, adding that Ando designed the
exhibit himself, and supervised its installation. What makes Ando
so special, Benjamin explained is “his superb and wonderful manipulation
of space and light. He brings it into a building in subtle and dramatic
At the Foundation, even on a cloudy day, the natural light complements
the art in unusual ways. (For one thing, it comes from the side,
“like it would in your home,” Pulitzer said.) But on sunny days
light beams activate the space.
At the end of a 170-foot-long gallery is Blue Black by Ellsworth
Kelly, a 28-foot tall, two-panel work of painted honeycomb aluminum
illuminated by a skylight.
Benjamin’s thoughts were echoed by Benjamin Forgey in an article
he wrote for The Washington Post. “The space also is the
source of much of the natural light reaching the interiors, and
the wall openings are masterfully located for this purpose, as well.
In effect, he uses light as a sculptural tool, so that on sunny
days sharp shafts of light from varying rectangular openings carve
out linear patterns on the floors and walls.”
Benjamin said that another element of Ando’s architecture is the
interior’s relationship with nature. He achieves this with “innovative
views” of the outside, as well as the use of water elements and
interior gardens. A reflection pool outside pulls the sky down and
shows the wind’s affect on the surface of the water in dramatic
Forgey elaborates in The Washington Post, “That open space
with its pool is the key to the architecture. It provides an opportunity
for views to the outside—and Ando frames the views masterfully.”
Benjamin said the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts is Ando’s first
building for public usage in this country. The self-taught architect
has also won commissions for the Alexander Calder Museum in Philadelphia
and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas.
Pulitzer wouldn’t say how much the St. Louis structure cost, but
did say that by the square foot—and the Foundation has 6,700 of
them for exhibits—the cost is in line with most first-rate art museums.
Consider, for instance, the HVAC requirements to safely house a
collection that includes Picasso, Monet, Braque, Lichtenstein, Warhol
As for an annual budget, Pulitzer said she and foundation director
Stein are working on it. “What has gone on up to now has involved
building, installing and opening the building. What will occur in
the new year will be a more normal operating budget.”
Like Pulitzer, Stein has Saint Louis Art Museum experience. She
curated decorative arts—objects like textiles, furniture, ceramics,
glass—for two years. She also has curatorial experience with private
art collections, and the Art Institute of Chicago
“A curator is responsible for the collection,” Pulitzer said. “Studying
it, caring for it, installing it, doing exhibitions and acquiring
new art. The director of a museum does those things too, but is
responsible for operations and many other facets as well.”
At the Foundation, Pulitzer is both president and curator, creating
an interesting organization chart. Working under Pulitzer is Stein.
Working under Stein is Pulitzer. Stein said that makes them partners.
She also called Pulitzer “a wonderful boss. She’s incredibly intelligent
and insightful, and likes to work in dialogue. If there’s a difference
of opinion, Emily gives thought to whatever it is.”
“My first boss had worked with Emily,” Stein continued. “I asked
if she had trained Lynn Springer Roberts because they were so much
alike. And she had. There’s a lot of discussion, thinking together
and working together.”
Laurie Stein, Pulitzer Foundation director
Stein returned after nine years in Germany where she had been a
curator at Werkbund Archiv, a small research-oriented museum devoted
to German architecture and design.
She has a bachelor’s in European history and art history from Tufts,
and a master’s and ABD (all but dissertation) in art history from
the University of Chicago. She also studied in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Pulitzer and Stein had met at the Saint Louis Art Museum and crossed
paths again when Stein took up provenance research, which she defined
as “the history of works of art from the Second World War. My first
research in such matters was a painting Mr. Pulitzer bought at auction
Stein said she is pleased by the Pulitzer Foundation’s contribution
to the St. Louis area’s cultural tourism, providing “a new element
on its palette...attracting a new audience, people coming to see
the building and participating in programs, to make St. Louis more
of a stop internationally.”
It’s garnering attention from international press. Articles have
been written in the The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago
Tribune, The Washington Post, The New Yorker,
The New York Times, Architecture Magazine, Architecture
Digest, Art in America, L.A. Times, Dallas Morning
News and National Public Radio. That’s not to mention international
recognition—art and architecture critics in Japan, England and Italy
have written magazine articles on the Foundation and programs on
it have aired on French and German television.
At the press conference, Washington Post’s Forgey, asked
Pulitzer about the “haphazard architecture” surrounding the Foundation.
She said, when an urban neighborhood goes south it takes a while
to come back, and there may be some gaps. But the area surrounding
the Foundation has a lot going for it: the Fox, Powell Hall, the
Grandel Theater, the Sheldon, the Sheldon addition, KETC, the Earthways
house, the Continental building, Cardinal Ritter Prep.
She included the Foundation’s next door neighbor-to-be, the Forum
for Contemporary Art, in her roster. Its stock in trade is providing
a venue for the works of largely young artists. When their building
is completed, the organizations will share a courtyard in which
Serra’s 125-ton torqued spiral “Joe” sits.
Richard Serra’s 125-ton twisting steel spiral is named Joe in
honor of the late Joseph Pulitzer Jr. and boldly stands in a shared
courtyard of the Pulitzer Foundation and the Forum for Contemporary
The work shares at least one attribute with the Foundation: You
owe yourself a trip inside. The steel walls are two inches thick
and 13 feet tall, creating a spiral path to an open center.
Photographer Mike DeFilippo, who was finding more intriguing shots
than we could use in this piece, said he was reminded of a Utah
slot canyon. He called the passageway “vertiginous.” The disorientation
stems from how the steep sides’ angles swoop at different coefficients.
Once in the center, school teacher Ellen DeFilippo tapped her heal
in the gravel, just to hear—appreciate—the sound it made. She looked
up. What contours, she marveled.
Serra, examining his sculpture for the first time since its installation,
wandered into the center, too, and was pleased with the final outcome.
Pulitzer also played a role in installing the downtown Serra, “Twain,”
a controversial eight-panel, steel sculpture between Chestnut and
Market that’s been there since 1981.
“Both have to do with the viewer in relation to the sculpture,”
Pulitzer said, “but ‘Twain’ is about experiencing where you are.
‘Joe’ is more about the sculpture itself and its space.” Part of
appreciating “Twain,” Pulitzer explained, proceeds from the views
of downtown St. Louis framed in its gaps. “‘Twain’ is a simpler
intellectual concept than ‘Joe,’ and yet its experience requires
more thought,” she said.
Celebrating the opening of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts,
were American artists Richard Serra (left) and Ellsworth Kelly,
who created works of art specially commissioned for the space.
Pulitzer was as demanding about the installation in the galleries
as any mother: “It took four attempts to hang the paintings until
I was satisfied.”
Certainly this perfectionism is one of the many reasons for the
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