Pulitzers open arts foundation in St. Louis neighborhood

Monday, November 26, 2001

ST. LOUIS -- By turns, people describe the new Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts as a renowned family's gift to their city, or as a needed spark for an arts district attempting a revitalization.

The Pulitzer Foundation building rests on Washington Boulevard in St. Louis' Grand Center neighborhood, a once-sparkling entertainment area poised for a comeback.

Conceived by the late Joseph Pulitzer Jr., former editor and publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and his wife Emily, the building was designed as a space where the family could share art from its private collection with scholars and the public.

The structure was designed by Tadao Ando, a Japanese architect who won the 1995 Pritzker Prize, his field's highest honor.

"I actually told Mrs. Pulitzer I used to be very skeptical of how this was going to turn out," said Kathleen Brady, vice president for facilities at St. Louis University, which is among the city's institutions working to improve the Grand Center neighborhood.

Brady said when she first saw drawings of the proposed building, she thought it looked like "a poured concrete bunker." But Brady said she's changed her mind entirely.

"The building is absolutely phenomenal," she said. "The physical home of this Pulitzer foundation is probably one of the most significant private developments in the city in my lifetime."

The structure consists of two long rectangles, one 10 feet taller than the other.

The building houses art galleries, separated by an outdoor reflecting pool. A cantilevered roof slab extends from the higher wing over the lower, supported by a single column, a noticeable structural element inside the gallery.

The lower roof houses a glass pavilion and terrace on one-third of its length. The building was designed so that the interplay between the artworks, space, light and water reflections affect visitors' experiences.

An 'unmuseum'

Emily Rauh Pulitzer, a former St. Louis Art Museum curator, had been working to make the building a reality for about a decade. She said she was thrilled with how the foundation turned out.

"There isn't a day that a new visual experience doesn't occur," she said.

The foundation, billing itself as an "unmuseum," is attracting plenty of notice.

Works on display range from Andy Warhol's portrait of Elizabeth Taylor in the front foyer to Claude Monet's "Water Lilies" just around the corner. No wall signs identify the art, though visitors can pick up a paper guide at the entrance. Much of the work is recognizable by artist, if not title.

"The Pulitzers collected not only fine art, but quite beautiful and extraordinary work," said Cynthia Weese, dean of the School of Architecture at Washington University.

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