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A Place of Possibilities
The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts is more than just its magnificent works, meditative space and Grand Center neighborhood.
By Diana Mehl   
Emily Rauh Pulitzer
Emily Rauh Pulitzer, founder and chairman, Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.
Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts
The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, designed by Tadao Ando.

Ellsworth Kelly, Blue Black, 2001, honeycomb aluminum.
Richard Serra, Joe
Richard Serra, Joe, 2000, weathering steel.
  Minimalism and Beyond

October 14, 2005 – April 26, 2006
The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts
St. Louis, MO

When 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. Why?
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 challenges.

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 space?
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 only aim?
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 fabulous staff. 

How 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 quality.

Photo Credit:
Image 1: Ana Busto, for Joyce Magazine; Image 2-4: Robert Pettus, Courtesy of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.
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