Emily Rauh Pulitzer, founder and chairman, Pulitzer
Foundation for the Arts.
The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, designed by Tadao
Ellsworth Kelly, Blue Black, 2001, honeycomb
Richard Serra, Joe, 2000, weathering steel.
14, 2005 – April 26, 2006
The Pulitzer Foundation for the
St. Louis, MO
the distinguished curator, collector and arts patron Emily
Rauh Pulitzer announced her intention to open a new arts
institution in St. Louis, MO, the art world took notice.
Mrs. Pulitzer, together with her late husband, Joseph Pulitzer
Jr., the former publisher and editor of the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch, had built one of the premier private
art collections in the country with works ranging from Monet
and Picasso to Warhol and Kiki Smith. With degrees in art
history from Bryn Mawr and Harvard, a notable curatorial
career at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard and the Saint Louis
Art Museum, and a record of important contributions to public
art projects, Pulitzer had the art world eagerly anticipating
her new endeavor. Four years ago, the Pulitzer Foundation
for the Arts opened its doors to international acclaim.
Designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando,
the 27,000-square-foot concrete building was hailed as a
remarkable melding of art and architecture, a space that
perfectly serves the aim of the Foundation to be a unique
resource for the contemplation and study of the arts.
In an interview with Panache, Pulitzer talks about
the reasons behind her decision to create the Foundation,
her collaboration with Ando and her distinctive outlook
on the art-viewing experience.
There is a long tradition of distinguished collectors
opening their own museums (for example, Isabella Stewart
Gardner in Boston and, recently, Raymond Nasher in Dallas).
The Foundation you created does not own your collection.
I commissioned two works for the Pulitzer Foundation for
the Arts: Blue/Black by Ellsworth Kelly and Joe
by Richard Serra. Serra and Kelly were instrumental in introducing
us to Tadao Ando's work. In addition, the Foundation
owns an installation piece, Atrabiliarios by Doris
Salcedo, and Rock Settee by Scott Burton, which
is on the building's watercourt. As a collector and
a curator by profession, it seemed clear to me from the
beginning that the Foundation should not own a collection,
since this would have been limiting to the viewer's
experience, as well as to curatorial possibilities. I am
very interested in exploring curatorial possibilities and
Tell us about the building. What did you have in
mind when you commissioned Tadao Ando to design it?
The project first began when my late husband and I bought
a former automobile factory and showroom in Grand Center
with the idea of a private enclave on the second floor to
house works of art that were too large for our home. We
planned to encourage public use of the ground floor in order
to stimulate the redevelopment of the Grand Center neighborhood
as an arts and entertainment area. After my husband died,
I realized that we should have asked Tadao Ando to design
an entirely new building, rather than rehabbing an existing
one. Ando's initial design — two long parallel
rectangles, separated by a pool — was, however, carried
over into the design for the new building. For Ando this
was his first public freestanding project in the U.S. I
asked for a variety of elements: galleries with controlled
and natural light, unbroken walls and corners, because some
contemporary artworks are related to corners.
The building has been widely acclaimed. What is
so special about it?
We liked Ando's aesthetic of clean lines and clear
spaces, his use of volume and natural light. What he achieved
was a meditative space, where nature intervenes with ever-changing
effects of light, wind and water. Almost every day, if not
every hour, provides a different experience in the building.
The craftsmanship required to create the structure and surfaces
necessitated a team effort, which became the high point
in the careers of many of the workers.
How does art from your own collection look in this
Very different from at home — some better, some worse.
The first installation at the Pulitzer was largely drawn
from my collection. When I was installing, I realized how
big the challenge was, especially since I had never worked
with those spaces before. Since we intend to provide unique
experiences for both artists and visitors, for our second
exhibition, I invited Ellsworth Kelly to select his works
from St. Louis collections and to install them. I learned
a lot. In some cases moving a work from one wall to another
made it spring to life. In a subsequent exhibition, Richard
Serra took the opportunity to explore the combination of
drawings and sculpture in ways he had not previously done.
We borrowed one of his major early floor sculptures from
the Museum of Modern Art that looked vastly more powerful
than it ever could in a regular museum space. We are actually
evolving into a laboratory. Ando called the space a place
of possibilities, and it is in that sense that we think
differently about works of art and show them in a way they
cannot be shown in traditional museums. We have come to
realize that we are actually doing installations, rather
than exhibitions. For example, in the spiritual exhibition
we showed five 20-foot-tall Asmat Ancestor Poles adjacent
to where the Serra floor sculpture had been. Their relationship
to Kelly's commissioned Blue Black transformed
the experience of Blue Black and vice versa. It
is in a way the juxtapositions that are key to installing
in the building, always bearing the architecture in mind.
Curators from various museums have found our installations
stimulating. The latest, Brancusi and Serra in Dialogue,
allowed the perception of both artists' works to be
seen with fresh eyes. Whenever we de-install, it creates
a sinking feeling in me that we might not be able to be
as good again. So far, however, each installation has brought
its own rewards and also made us view the architecture in
a different light. This is the case with our current installation, Minimalism
and Beyond, where the first Minimalist generation and
younger artists reacting to their legacy are seen in
a building of a similar aesthetic.
What else differentiates the Pulitzer from a museum?
As the Foundation's director, Matthias Waschek, has
so clearly understood, we don't tell stories as most
exhibitions or collection installations do. We juxtapose
works with each other and the subtleties of the building.
We have never had labels, but do provide written material
with basic information about the works of art and, under
Matthias Waschek's creative leadership, they contain
comments that encourage personal perceptions. When a visitor
leaves, he or she can remember each work due to the personal
experience and the small scale of the institution. In that
sense, we are not educational in the traditional way. The
intimacy of the experience is underscored by the fact that
we avoid stanchions and pedestals. That, coupled with the
natural light, creates an experience parallel to that which
one would have viewing art at home. Our idea of success
is not the sheer quantity of visitors but the absolute quality
of their experience. We are open on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Admission is free.
Is the presentation of works of art the Foundation's
No, the name says it already: The Pulitzer Foundation is
for the Arts. We have organized a number of chamber
music concerts with members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
The programs are usually connected to the art on view and
mostly present music not frequently performed. Since
the appointment of David Robertson as music director of
the St. Louis Symphony, we have begun organizing these concerts
on a regular basis. Hopefully, we will present poetry
and other kinds of performances in the near future. We present
symposia with small groups of artists, architects, academics
and museum professionals who together discuss issues raised
by our building and what is in it. We remain very committed
to the development of our neighborhood, Grand Center. I
never dreamed when I decided to build a new building that
it would provide a place for such rich and varied explorations
and experiences. This adventure has been undertaken with
the partnership of a superb board whose members provide
a wealth of experience and ideas. We also have a small but
would you like this institution to be defined in the future?
Experience — mainly in the domain of collections turned
into museums — has shown that the mission has either
been defined too narrowly or too broadly, often resulting
in great difficulties for these institutions to remain vital.
I strongly hope that the Pulitzer will remain a place of
possibilities with whatever occurs being of the highest