Pulitzer Prized

The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts exhibits a private collection in a public space

Upstairs, another alcove creates a similar intimate visual theater. A black Richard Serra painting on canvas takes up a corner of the room, and two paintings by Mark Rothko -- one light, the other dark -- are alone in the space with a wooden bench, featuring an intriguing cross-grain design by Ando, in the center. In this space, the darker Rothko presents a stunning visual display, one that rarely occurs in the traditional museum or gallery environment. The painting takes time to see, for the eyes to adjust to the light so that the colors begin to emerge, begin to glow, and the edges of Rothko's shapes begin to shimmer. As one leaves the room and returns to the grand hall and the nearby pond, the building has changed again, the inner rooms transforming the outer -- as the mind's inner vision transforms things seen.

The Pulitzer's library contains a Picasso that's a bit too loud -- because of its wild exuberance and because it's a Picasso -- for concentrated study. Outside a rectangular window is a glimpse of the Serra sculpture "Joe," a bit ominous in the rectilinear frame, like a Neal Jenny painting. Next door is office space -- the two most curious items being a small portrait of Joseph Pulitzer by Lucian Freud (a friend found this the most moving work in the foundation) and a really cool private shower room. Ando does not do so well with other bathroom facilities. One major design flaw is the window by one women's public toilet -- great for looking out but a bit of an embarrassment when looking in. Maybe there's a thin little curtain to go with the thin little window that hasn't yet been installed.

An exterior courtyard, which will be shared with the Forum for Contemporary Art after its building is completed in 2003, holds the Serra as centerpiece. A monumental work of torqued Cor-Ten steel, "Joe," in honor of the late publisher, counters the concrete squareness of the Ando with tarnished disequilibrium. The walls of the spiral structure lean in, lean out, curve, bend, bow -- effecting a roller-coaster ride without the viewer's leaving the ground. At the center, the sky above has drunk too much.

Really, how many locals are dying to see what's inside the Ando? The building is shown here from the outside, with a view of the Aristide Maillol bronze "Venus."
Jennifer Silverberg
Really, how many locals are dying to see what's inside the Ando? The building is shown here from the outside, with a view of the Aristide Maillol bronze "Venus."

Leaving the spiral woozily, leaving the building -- again the viewer finds the way out has changed the way in. Who is the Pulitzer Foundation for? Laurie Stein, who has left her World War II/Holocaust-provenance research for the St. Louis Art Museum to direct the foundation, says it's for everybody, even children: "We never said it wasn't for children. I don't know where that idea came from." The two-day-a-week, by-appointment-only restrictions are less limitations to the public (really, how many locals are dying to see this collection?) as they are preserving an engagement with art that is unlike the common museum or gallery experience. During a post-tour phone conversation, Stein earnestly asks how the experience was, talks about how the staff is exploring ways to enhance the individualized experience in the public space -- a space where the notion of public and private is being redefined.

In the aftermath of the enormous tragedy, the Ando makes for another sober, unintended reflection: Is the bunker now a metaphor for the preservation of civilization itself?

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