In the early 1990s, Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr. sought to establish a permanent space in which to share their acclaimed art collection with the public, and they purchased property in St. Louis’ Grand Center Arts District. Over course of some ten years spent conceiving and realizing the project, its premise evolved from that of a private gallery to a non-collecting museum that would present experimental, progressive, and scholarly exhibitions of historic and contemporary art from across the globe.
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Once a thriving entertainment district, the Grand Center neighborhood had fallen into neglect. With their project, the Pulitzers hoped to contribute to the area’s revitalization and expand the community for the arts in St. Louis. In 1991, they invited the celebrated architect Tadao Ando to St. Louis and commissioned him to create their space. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. passed away in 1993, and when Emily Pulitzer returned to the project, she decided to create a place not for her collection but for special exhibitions through which the public could experience both historic and contemporary art in an intimate setting. The project would become Ando’s first free-standing public building in the United States. His international reputation continued to grow, and in 1995 he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which cited his commitment to craftsmanship in building and his sensitivity to natural elements such as light and water—features that play an integral role in the design and experience of the Pulitzer building.
To complement the precise lines and contemplative spaces of Ando’s design, Emily Pulitzer commissioned Richard Serra and Ellsworth Kelly to create permanent works for the building. Kelly’s Blue Black, a vertical wall-sculpture comprising two painted aluminum panels, was installed beneath a narrow skylight on the highest wall of the Main Gallery. Serra’s Joe—named in homage to the late Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., and the first in the artist’s acclaimed series of torqued spirals made of weathering steel—was installed in the courtyard. In each instance, Ando modified his original design to accommodate these important works, in a collaboration with the artists that enhanced the experience of both the art and the gallery space.
When the Pulitzer Arts Foundation opened in 2001, Ando’s architecture became not only a superb place to present art, but one of the primary experiences of the museum, where spacious galleries, illuminated by abundant and ever-changing natural light, combine with a central water court to create poetic, multilayered experiences of the art within. Exhibitions were installed without the addition of wall text, though accompanied by free exhibition catalogues, reflecting a fundamental belief in the power of an unmediated experience of art. In the words of Emily Pulitzer, the philosophy behind this practice is about “seeing the art as art, and giving it the space necessary to achieve that perspective.”
In 2014, the Pulitzer began the transformation of its lower level into public spaces. The new galleries, which opened on May 1, 2015, marked the first major alteration to the building since the Pulitzer opened in 2001.
Today, the Pulitzer remains a place where ideas are freely explored, new work is exhibited, and historic work re-examined. More than twenty years after it was first imagined, the museum remains committed to providing direct engagement with art and contributing to the understanding, advancement, and enjoyment of the arts.