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An Interview with Emily Rauh Pulitzer
Founder and President, Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts
March 1, 2001

Question: You are about to open a new institution, the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. How would you define the PFA?

Emily Rauh Pulitzer: The PFA is a new kind of arts institution, which serves both St. Louis and the international community. Its goals are to encourage a greater understanding of the relationship between contemporary art and architecture, and to foster collaboration among individuals and cultural and educational institutions. One of the keys to realizing these goals is the experience of the PFA itself. By offering its own fusion of art and architecture, the PFA serves as a catalyst for further explorations.

Q: Was the PFA founded with these goals, or did they evolve with the project?

ERP: It has been more of an evolutionary process, going back to 1991, when my late husband, Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., and I began this project.

Q: What were the origins of the PFA?

ERP: After an exhibition of works from our collection had been shown in 1988 at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum and at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Joe and I realized that some were too large to be at home, and that we would not see them again soon. At that time, both of us were already involved in the effort to revitalize the Grand Center area. So we bought a former automobile showroom and factory in Grand Center with the idea of renovating the second floor as a space to install large works of art, while turning over the ground floor to some public function that would help enliven the area.

Q: Why was it important to both of you to help revitalize Grand Center?

ERP: My husband was born in St. Louis and lived here most of his life. He loved music and theater, and so Grand Center held wonderful memories for him, since it had been the city's entertainment district before falling into neglect. In the 1960s, as a member of the board of the Symphony, Joe was involved in that organization's relocation to Grand Center, which was the first sign of new hope for the area, the first gesture that said the decline could be reversed. By 1988, because of his great passion for the Symphony and his desire to support this neighborhood, Joe was also serving on the board of the area's redevelopment organization, Grand Center, Inc.

I had been interested in urbanism and architecture for a long time and saw Grand Center as a potential crossroads for St. Louis, where people from all of the city's communities might come together.

Q: When you began to look for an architect for your renovation in Grand Center, Tadao Ando had not yet won the Pritzker Prize, nor had he been commissioned to work on any free-standing projects in the United States. Why did you choose him?

ERP: We had been reviewing the work of various architects when we started to hear about Tadao Ando, first from Richard Serra, then from Jim Wood, the President of The Art Institute of Chicago. Finally, Ellsworth Kelly offered to send us some material on Ando's work. When my husband and I looked at it, we said with one voice, "This is the architect we want to work with." Afterward, we realized that we had been in one of his buildings in Kyoto without knowing it.

Q: What attracted you to Ando's work?

ERP: We felt that Ando was an artist, and that his aesthetic was related to our own and to those of other artists who interested us, particularly Kelly and Serra. Each of the three uses space in original and very powerful ways. They are very different from one another, of course. But all three use basic forms—rectangles, curves—with a quality of classical purity, of consummate proportion and balance that is enormously satisfying.

Q: How did you go about working with Ando?

ERP: Ando visited St. Louis at our invitation, looked at the old auto factory and created a plan for its renovation, which involved constructing a new, parallel structure to serve as an entrance to the second floor of the old building. By the time this design was developed, my husband had become ill. He urged me to proceed with the project.

After his death, I took the trip to Japan that Joe and I had planned but had been unable to make together. I saw more of Ando's buildings and decided that a renovation was the wrong approach. I suggested that we start afresh and that he construct an entirely new building.

Q: So, at this point, the project began to evolve beyond its original form. What were the first steps you took?

ERP: In the mid-1990s, I acquired a site adjacent to the building we had intended to renovate. The original site then became available for Channel 9, the educational television station, enabling them to move to Grand Center. I thought that their presence was very important in revitalizing the area. Another important addition to the area was the Forum for Contemporary Art, which is able now to launch its own new building, sharing our new site.

Q: How closely did you work with Ando while he designed the new building?

ERP: I provided Ando with transparencies and information about some of the works of art that I wanted to see installed in the new structure. We looked at what I like in the way works of art are seen in my home. We also visited the Saint Louis Art Museum and a number of commercial galleries in New York City and talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the various spaces in terms of viewing art.

The building that Ando designed responds to those conversations. But it also remains reminiscent of his concept for the original building, retaining the scheme of the parallel wings separated by a reflecting pool.

Q: At what point did you decide to commission works of art for the new PFA?

ERP: When I realized that this building was going to be a major endeavor, I felt that artists should be involved with it in an integral way. Since I had heard about Ando from both Serra and Kelly, and since I felt there was an aesthetic common ground, I went to the two artists, approaching them separately.

Q: This wasn't your first experience of working with Kelly and Serra.

ERP: Not at all. Years before, with Patterson Sims, I had co-curated an exhibition of Kelly's sculpture, which opened at the Whitney Museum and then came to the Saint Louis Art Museum. I had known Richard Serra since 1968, before his first solo exhibition in New York City, when his work had been in a very challenging exhibition in St. Louis. In fact, Joe became so interested at that time in Serra's work that he commissioned his first permanent site-specific piece.

I believe that Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Serra are very great artists, and I was certain their work would be particularly appropriate for this building.

Q: Could you tell us about the give-and-take between the artists and the architect?

ERP: It was not always an easy process. It couldn't be. As Ando has said, each party wanted his work to be enhanced, not compromised.

I think that all too often, an architect designs a building, and then art is put into it in ways that damage the effect of the art and of the building as well. We were all very concerned that this should not happen here, and so it took several tries for each artist to decide on a specific work and a specific location.

Ando and Kelly collaborated through an exchange of proposals. Kelly created a model of a sculpture and placed it in the building model, Ando responded by changing its location, and Kelly made a further revision. After the first series of attempts, I think we all felt that the direction wasn't good for either the building or the art, and so we started again. The end result, I think, is immensely satisfying. You approach the Kelly sculpture through a long, rectangular space punctuated by a grand flight of stairs, so that the artwork is enhanced by the architecture and is affected by the play of natural light, while standing as an extraordinary expression in itself.

Serra needed to have some input into the design of the space to the west of the building, where his sculpture would be installed. It is a very complicated space, because there is a significant change in grade, and because this exterior plaza has to connect to the new building for the Forum for Contemporary Art. Ando, Serra and the FCA's architect, Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works, met on the site, and Serra made suggestions that both of the architects ultimately incorporated in their buildings. Ando changed the shape of the PFA's adjacent windows in response to Serra's sculpture proposal. It was a very exciting collaboration.

Q: By bringing Ando, Kelly and Serra together to create a project, you have added a new and complex work of art to the cityscape of St. Louis. Was this your first major urban intervention?

ERP: No, it's my third.

After I left the Saint Louis Art Museum, I became involved in public art, beginning with the project to install a major sculpture by Richard Serra, Twain, in downtown St. Louis. In 1973, an NEA panel selected Serra to create a work for that site, and after a long process of approvals and fundraising the sculpture was installed in 1981. I was one of the key people involved in realizing the project.

I also was the co-founder of Arts in Transit, which brought artists into the design of St. Louis's MetroLink system. The artists were involved in the planning from an early date, working on everything from bridge piers to station design and doing works of art to help announce that MetroLink was coming. As a result, MetroLink was much more popular than anyone had expected.

Q: Besides adding the PFA's new building to the St. Louis cityscape, you are also bringing into the building a certain number of paintings and sculptures from your collection. How are you installing them?

ERP: The goal is to let the other paintings and sculptures look as good as the two commissioned works, and to enhance Ando's space.

The large gallery is a challenge. As someone said to me, architects want to pull you through their space; and the Kelly sculpture at the end of the gallery acts as an additional magnet. So I want to install the works of art in a way that will slow you down, so you look at what's en route, without having walls that would adversely affect the space or ruin the impact of the Kelly at the end.

From my point of view, the large gallery calls for works of large scale. I have installed works by Lichtenstein, Warhol, Serra, Kelly and a late Philip Guston. But we have a variety of spaces in the building—three smaller galleries, in addition to the library and offices.

Q: How would you characterize Ando's achievement at the PFA?

ERP: I think Tadao Ando is brilliant at using whatever site he's given. I've seen his buildings in beautiful rural settings, in very dense urban centers, and in nondescript suburban places, and in each case he creates a building that is totally appropriate to its site. What I find most remarkable in his work for the PFA is that in the urban setting of Grand Center, he has designed a building in which nature plays a significant role.

The key is that Ando is an absolute genius in his use of natural light. One thinks of his architecture as being about the use of concrete, and certainly his use of the material is masterful. But even more masterful is his way with natural light.

Just as there are two parallel wings in the PFA, there are also two parallel planes. One is the roof of the lower wing, which is planted with pygmy bamboo, and the other is the reflecting pool, which is situated adjacent to the wing and a story below. So you have a plane of green and a plane of water. Because the water is affected by wind, it casts constantly changing reflections into the building, which are remarkable. The result is a merger of art, architecture and nature—and yet the PFA is very much an urban building.

Q: To help put this building to use, you have recruited Laurie A. Stein to serve as the Director of the PFA. What does she bring to the institution?

ERP: Laurie Stein is a woman with wide experience in the visual arts and an extensive history of undertaking collaborative projects. She is a serious scholar, a very flexible and innovative executive, and a lovely human being. I could not be more happy to work with anyone—especially now, when we are creating a new institution and doing so with a very small staff.

Laurie was the Curator of Decorative Arts at the Saint Louis Art Museum for two years, which is how I first met her. A year and a half ago, I spent some time with her in Berlin, where she was living, and enjoyed our time together looking at art and architecture. Laurie was one of the first people who came to mind when we began to search for a director for the PFA.

Q: The PFA's first program initiative is the Contemporary Art Partnership. Why did you begin with this program?

ERP: CAP makes a number of contributions. It forges new ties among three very different cultural institutions: the Saint Louis Art Museum, which is the major metropolitan art museum; the Forum for Contemporary Art, which primarily shows younger artists in frequently changing exhibitions and has no collection; and the PFA. The CAP trains a diverse group of people to lead discussions in our three institutions and elsewhere in the community, on the subject of contemporary art and architecture. The CAP will also bring to people's attention the differences and strengths of the three institutions. So not only will the community benefit from this, but I think the institutions will, too.

Q: Is the art community in St. Louis well prepared for this sort of collaboration?

ERP: I feel very fortunate that the PFA is opening in St. Louis at this time, when the leadership of the visual arts institutions is particularly strong and collaborative. We are also talking with people at Washington University and other arts organizations, and there again we are looking forward to wonderful collaborations.

Q: Summing up, what do you hope people will feel when they get their first experience of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts?

ERP: One of our goals is to encourage individual experiences of contemporary art and contemporary architecture; and so, quite simply, I hope that people will enjoy the tranquility of the setting and enjoy seeing the works of art and the building in different lights. I also hope that people will feel the PFA is a meaningful addition to St. Louis. If we elicit those responses, then I'll feel we're off to a good start.

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