Through engaging exhibitions, programs, and partnerships with artists, curators, and innovators across disciplines, Pulitzer Arts Foundation strives to inspire both the St. Louis community and international arts audiences to think differently about creativity in daily life.
Since its opening in October 2001, Pulitzer Arts Foundation has become both a sanctuary for the ever-evolving experience of art and a laboratory for unprecedented collaborations and endeavors. Activating the dynamic use of light and space in its Tadao Ando-designed building, the Pulitzer presents a wide range of exhibitions, including those of Old Masters, Buddhist art, important modern and contemporary artists such as Dan Flavin and Ann Hamilton, and group exhibitions that explore a diverse array of themes and ideas. In addition to its curatorial platform, the Pulitzer offers a robust roster of programs that bring together leading figures from fields such as art, architecture, design, urban planning, social work, technology, and science. Such initiatives have included Marfa Dialogues / St. Louis (2014)—a collaborative summit on global climate change with St. Louis as a case study—and Staging (2009 and 2012), which invited former prisoners and homeless veterans to perform scripts based on their responses to the art on view. Established by curator, philanthropist, and arts patron Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Pulitzer Arts Foundation promotes the significance of art in everyday life and its impact on the health and success of a community.
Pulitzer Arts Foundation began with the desire to see art differently. In the early 1990s, Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer Jr. sought to establish a permanent space to display their acclaimed art collection and share it with a wider audience. With this in mind, they purchased an abandoned automobile factory in the Grand Center cultural district of St. Louis and planned to renovate the space into a gallery—particularly for large works that would not fit easily into their home. In the ten years that it took to see the project realized, the initial premise evolved from a private gallery into a public space that inspires new ways of thinking about art, architecture, and the natural world.
A thriving entertainment district in the early decades of the twentieth century, Grand Center had fallen into neglect by the 1960s. With their project, the Pulitzers hoped to contribute to the neighborhood's revitalization and foster a new community for the arts in St. Louis. They invited the Japanese architect Tadao Ando to St. Louis in 1991 and commissioned him to create their gallery space. It was during the design phase that Joseph Pulitzer Jr. passed away, and the project was postponed. When Mrs. Pulitzer returned to it at the end of 1993, she did so with the purpose of creating a public institution where diverse collections of art, as well as her own, could be viewed in an intimate setting. A new site was selected in Grand Center, which would become Ando's first free-standing public space in the United States. Ando's international reputation continued to grow, and he was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1995, which cited his commitment to craftsmanship in building and his sensitivity to natural elements such as light and water—features that play an important role in the experience of the Pulitzer building.
To complement the precise lines and contemplative spaces of Ando's design, Mrs. Pulitzer commissioned two artists to create permanent works for the building. Richard Serra and Ellsworth Kelly were chosen for their formal and aesthetic affinities with Ando, contributing to a dynamic relation between structural and sculptural elements in the building. After exploring several possibilities, Kelly installed a vertical sculpture, Blue Black, composed of two painted aluminum panels beneath a narrow skylight on the highest wall of the Main Gallery. In the courtyard to the west of the building, Serra's Joe—named in homage to the late Joseph Pulitzer Jr.—was the first in the artist's series of torqued spirals of weathering steel. In each instance, Ando's original design for the building was modified in some way to accommodate these important works, and the intense collaboration between Ando, Kelly, and Serra enhanced both the experience of the art and the effect of the space.
As the architectural imperative changed, so too did the overall vision for the project. What had been conceived as a private gallery was reimagined as a public institution. What would have housed a single collection became a space in which to curate exhibitions in dialogue with the architecture. This transformation also inspired a significant break from the conventions and expectations of most modern arts institutions. In Ando's design, natural light would soar through the building, illuminating the galleries more like a home than a museum. Artwork would also be installed without the addition of any wall text, reflecting a fundamental belief in the power of art and architecture to challenge, enrich, and move its audiences in uniquely personal ways. In the words of Mrs. Pulitzer, the philosophy behind this practice is about "seeing the art as art, and giving it the space necessary to achieve that perspective."
Since its opening, Pulitzer Arts Foundation has pushed the boundaries of the traditional arts encounter. Guided by its mission to serve as a vibrant forum for discovery and dialogue, the Pulitzer connects both its physical and virtual spaces to broader global conversations on technology, science, urban development, and history. In 2014, the Pulitzer initiated a construction project to transform the lower level of its building into public spaces. Previously used for offices and storage, the converted lower level enables the Pulitzer to enhance its curatorial and public offerings, engage with a wider range of collaborators across disciplines, and experiment with the in-gallery experience. The new galleries, which opened to the public on May 1, 2015, marked the first major alteration to the building since the Pulitzer opened in 2001. The renovation adds 3,700 square feet of programmable space to the institution’s existing galleries and enhances the Pulitzer’s role as an important creative engine in St. Louis and the field.
More than twenty years after it was first imagined, the Pulitzer remains committed to promoting new ways to engage with its community and contribute to the understanding, advancement, and enjoyment of the arts.