Emmy Award

Emily Pulitzer's gift to St. Louis has arrived in a concrete box. Hidden inside: the portrait of a woman who changed the city.

Another clipping shows the new curator, her open, fresh Midwestern face, dark eyebrows and deep, clear eyes. Her shoulder-length blond hair is combed back. She affects a stylish simplicity emblematic of a certain type of intense, no-nonsense art-history student common to every generation. Rauh studied with the finest in her field, and, at a time when the Ivy League did not accept women, she attended institutions where the smartest women went. Bryn Mawr, from which she graduated with honors in 1955, was rated one of the top 10 institutions in the country in the field of art history.

Yet, with a profound knowledge of classical traditions, Rauh had an eye for the new, and that eye would change the cultural life of the city.

Richard Serra's "Joe," commissioned for the Pulitzer Foundation: The walls fold in on each other and pull away, close then open to a center of sky.
Dirk Reinartz
Richard Serra's "Joe," commissioned for the Pulitzer Foundation: The walls fold in on each other and pull away, close then open to a center of sky.

St. Louis might be denigrated for appearing culturally challenged today, but when Rauh arrived in 1964, SLAM had only recently discontinued its policy of excluding living artists from its galleries.

"There wasn't an interest in collecting the cutting-edge art of the time," Sissy Thomas recalls. The prominent collectors of the city (May, Shoenberg, Steinberg, Weil, Pulitzer) had invested in European modernism (Beckmann, Matisse, Braque, Picasso, Monet), showing little interest in postwar art.

Then a shift occurred, brought on partly by the flamboyance of the '60s, as well as increased government investment in the arts. In St. Louis, this cultural shift was profoundly influenced by the smart young curator at SLAM. "There wasn't much, and suddenly there was," says Patsy Degener, former Post-Dispatch art critic. "Emmy was a great impetus to contemporary art in St. Louis. I've always felt that it's very well to talk about galleries and colleges, but the Art Museum sets the tone for art in St. Louis. That's probably true in any smaller city; the No. 1 establishment sets the tone. Under Emmy, there was this real burgeoning interest in what was happening in New York and Europe and the world."

One of the exhibitions that brought a new world to St. Louis was 7 for 67, featuring works by sculptors Serra, Oldenburg, Segal, Christo, DiSuvero, Judd and -- with a nod to the local -- Ernest Trova. "Her exhibitions were amazing, in retrospect," Thomas recalls, "because the people she chose for her exhibitions were people whose thumbprint shaped late-20th-century art."

Oldenburg's "Soft Toilet," an object whose title also serves as a perfect descriptive, was one of the more shocking pieces to be displayed in the staid institution in 7 for 67. Placing a gross representation of a john in the Art Museum did not provoke noticeable signs of public outrage such as those that would be evoked years later, when "Time Landscape" and "Twain" confronted a more contrary audience.

"There wasn't so much shock as surprise," Thomas says. "It all seemed so extraordinary. Yes, I do remember. We were all a great deal younger in those days," she laughs wryly. "But it was simply extraordinary, and the diversity in that exhibition was also extraordinary -- from the pop work of Oldenburg to the reduced minimalism of Judd to the really mysterious work of Christo to the really explosive energy and exuberant power of the DiSuveros. It really was an amazing moment and very lively."

In a retrospective of the work of Dan Flavin, in 1973, Rauh again displayed her curatorial prescience, focusing on an artist who would not receive art-world recognition until years later. Flavin, who died in 1996, worked with neon. Like Serra with steel and Ando with concrete, he took a material whose fine-art properties had been unexamined.

Thomas remembers the exhibition vividly and, in describing the installation, defines qualities of Rauh's aesthetic that extend into the Foundation. In SLAM's special-exhibitions gallery, Flavin placed neon boxes in corners and on walls, creating corridors of light. Thomas still remembers "how the light was washing the wall. It was, in that respect, more the experience you get with the Ando where you're in a room and the changes of light are so subtle."

In the decade during which Rauh served as curator to SLAM, she presented extraordinary exhibitions, and significant acquisitions were made on her watch. Moreover, the collecting base of St. Louis expanded. Those men collecting the Early Moderns made forays into the new with Rauh's encouragement and guidance. She tutored a new generation of St. Louis collectors with the formation of the Contemporary Art Society, which took tours to galleries around the country and brought in important artists -- Serra, Judd, Oldenburg, Carl Andre, Philip Glass -- to speak.

Rauh brought the world to a provincial Midwestern city. She also brought a taste for art based on principles of form, light, line, space and color, with a lack of regard for social, political or personal themes. "She's definitely a minimalist," says Degener. "She likes a very bare-bones, pure kind of art. We've had arguments about art. I'm much more catholic in my tastes. But the people she was interested in she was interested in very early on, like Ellsworth Kelly, Serra, Donald Judd. She has a Donald Judd out in the country place. Everybody who was involved in art has a period that they love, or it's their period, and I think that period [minimalism] was Emmy's."

« Previous Page
Next Page »