Emily Rauh Pulitzer has moved these works, and many others from her inestimable collection, out of her St. Louis County and Central West End homes and into the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in Grand Center. She's done so with a degree of fanfare rare for her. Emmy, as intimates call her, is a very private person. On the Foundation's opening weekend in October, before an international assembly of media, she joked that this was her first press conference, although she had been involved with a newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for more than 30 years.
Pulitzer, 68 years old, showed all the lightness of spirit of a much younger woman at the onset of a new adventure that day. Her unlined face, beaming with exuberance, belied her years. Her remarkably white hair brightened in the light that bathed the smooth concrete walls of the building, one of the first great works of architecture of the new century, which her vision, and her money, helped create. "This is the end of a very long saga and the beginning of a new one," she told the representatives of the media, all seated in comfortable folding chairs, gray to match the surroundings.
The building, designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, has received glowing critical recognition. Paul Goldberger of the New Yorker praised the structure as "the greatest work of architecture to go up in St. Louis" since Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building in 1891 and "one of the finest small museums of our time."
Works commissioned for the Foundation by Pulitzer -- Ellsworth Kelly's "Blue Black" and Richard Serra's "Joe" -- are masterpieces, made in collaboration between architect and artists. The "long saga" of how the Ando, the Kelly and the Serra came to be includes Pulitzer's remarkable life and career.
She would rather not be the focus of that story and so chose not to be interviewed for this profile. She would have preferred an in-depth look at the Foundation itself. Diverting attention from herself is characteristic of Pulitzer and aligns with her artistic sensibilities. The Ando and the art inside it exemplify a faith in the delight of pure form, line, light, space and color. Personality has been erased from, or submerged into, the art.
The conundrum of a depersonalized aesthetic is that it reflects traits of personality, of course. The vision of a private foundation reflects the vision of its founder. The surface of the building -- concrete walls with thin slats of windows that provide no inner view -- parallel the outer demeanor of Pulitzer, at least to those who are not allowed the more intimate perspective. Those who gain that close proximity find a woman comparable to the interior of the Foundation: warm, lustrous, sensual, brilliant and subtle.
The mark the Foundation has made on this city is a part of the long saga of Pulitzer's influence on St. Louis' cultural life. As a curator at the St. Louis Art Museum, as the wife of the legendary Joseph Pulitzer Jr., as patron and benefactor, as one who influenced the design of MetroLink and helped put Richard Serra's "Twain" in the Gateway Mall, as a former director of the Post-Dispatch and an advocate for Grand Center -- Pulitzer has shaped indelibly the city that became her home nearly 40 years ago. And she has the energy, drive and money to invest further in St. Louis' cultural life -- almost half-a-billion dollars of Pulitzer and Hearst-Argyle stock alone, $79.1 million of which she's been in the process of liquidating since 1999.
She's moved the Picasso from the bedroom and the Monets from the poolhouse and put them in the public view, to be seen on her terms. Pulitzer delivers to the city a rarefied experience of viewing art. The Foundation is both a gift and a declaration: that the beliefs she has held about art and life are timeless, outlasting colloquies of the past.
The triumphant opening of the Foundation can be better realized in relation to past disappointments. The concrete structure in Grand Center is not the first cultural intervention supported by Pulitzer. It is not the first time she has attempted to install a minimalist, abstract aesthetic in urban squalor.
The 1980s were not a propitious time for such refined ideals as minimalism and the civilizing influence of art to take shape in the public domain. Two public artworks, both championed by Pulitzer, were placed in downtown St. Louis in the mid-'80s. One was destroyed; the other was desecrated and reviled.
In 1987, Alan Sonfist's "Time Landscape of St. Louis" was flattened beneath the shovels of city bulldozers. The earthwork, installed across from Union Station near Carl Milles' fountain "The Meeting of the Waters," was turned into a vacant lot just 17 months after its dedication. A mound of earth containing a dense clump of native Missouri trees set adjacent to a formal French garden doesn't sound as if it could be the source of a political firestorm, but it was. "There were weeds there," Evelyn Rice, then St. Louis' parks-and-recreation director, complained to the New York Times. "Homeless people were hanging their clothes from trees. It was as if the artist had abandoned the site, leaving it to me to use my budget and my workers to try and make it work."
More than a few probably wondered what a parks-and-recreation budget and employees were for, other than maintaining public art and public space, but Rice didn't show too much concern for the $100,000 already invested in the project. Disregarding the city's own artistic-review policies, Rice had those trees and plants -- and weeds -- taken out.
Pulitzer, in a rare display of public pique, pinned the destruction on "the bureaucrats in the city Parks Department [who] sabotaged it from the beginning, because they didn't want to do the extra work that it required."
She had reason to be heated up over the Sonfist after the negativity hurled at Richard Serra's "Twain," which was installed in the Gateway Mall in 1982. She had been a patron and champion of Serra's for many years, giving the artist one of his first significant museum exhibitions, alongside an illustrious group of peers (including Claes Oldenburg, George Segal, Christo, Mark DiSuvero and Donald Judd) at SLAM in 1967, when she was curator there. The man who would become her husband, Joseph Pulitzer Jr., commissioned one of Serra's first site-specific works on the grounds of his Clayton Road home in 1970 (with, one suspects, the encouragement of curator Emily).
With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Missouri Arts Council and 35 corporations and individuals, "Twain" was commissioned. A group of Cor-Ten steel panels set in the shape of a skewed triangle, with openings through which to walk or gaze, it offers alternative perspectives of the surrounding environment.
People hated it -- and still do. One renegade group showed their disdain by placing white dots on the steel plates to make the Serra look like a set of dominoes.
Serra's "Tilted Arc" was removed in 1985 from Federal Plaza in Manhattan by the federal government in the culmination of one of the most dramatic battles in the decade-long culture wars. The act emboldened one St. Louis alderman, who called for a referendum to remove "Twain." Pulitzer again went public with her defense, describing the steel curtain as "a very comforting enclosure."
Harriet Traurig, former director of the Forum for Contemporary Art and a longtime friend, recalls the effect of the criticism on Pulitzer: "She took it partly personally and felt very hurt by it and didn't understand it. She really didn't understand why people wouldn't like these things that she felt would stand the test of time. There was a genuine, sincere naïveté about that."
The calls for removal died down, but to many, "Twain" remains an example of public art at its worst.
A walk around the piece today reveals it a little the worse for wear. Many of the plates have been heavily grafittied, remnants of protest remaining as palimpsest on steel. On a sunny fall afternoon, no one taking a smoke break from the surrounding office buildings seeks comfort in the enclosure. A clump of burned charcoal is long cold, a sign of the homeless who used the sculpture as windbreak to help warm them through the night.
The distance between disappointment and triumph is never as far as it seems. The aesthetic will that saw the good in the Sonfist and the Serra, that worked to have them made, then saw one destroyed and the other disgraced, is the same that created the Ando. Where others see coarse materials, dull simplicity, an arrogant slap in the public's face, Pulitzer sees a reinvigoration of steel and concrete, subtle intelligence, a gift.
It has taken nearly 20 years from Sonfist to Ando, from "Twain" to "Joe," but St. Louis is coming to see things Emily's way.
"Emily has a particular kind of vision, and it is a vision for the subtlest, the purist and, in many ways, the most tranquil art. Maybe it's just this whole thing with Sept. 11 that seems to make this so particularly important." Sissy Thomas does not include herself as a close friend of Pulitzer's, but, as a longtime follower of the St. Louis arts scene, she has observed with appreciative attention the artistic mark Emily has made on the city. "She has never been someone who embraced easy answers," Thomas notes. "She's never been somebody for whom flash-and-dash was of interest. I think she's given an unbelievable amount to this city in a very quiet way -- she and Joe, of course. Together they shared an incredible vision."
Before she took on the Pulitzer name, she was Emily Rauh, arriving in St. Louis in 1964 to become SLAM's curator. A native of Cincinnati, she was educated at Bryn Mawr, l'Ecole de Louvre and Radcliffe. She apprenticed briefly at her hometown museum before becoming the assistant curator of drawings at Harvard's Fogg Museum in 1957. When Charles Buckley came from the Fogg to become SLAM's new director, Rauh came, too.
She was serious about her career. Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was published around this time, giving voice to the disaffection of a generation of educated women trapped by domesticity, but Rauh, single at 31, was not among them. She was the sole curator for an institution that today employs 12 full-time curators.
In the SLAM archives, yellowed clippings from the Post-Dispatch portray an era in which arts coverage could be found on the women's or society pages. One color photo spread from the early '60s presents a pair of prominent St. Louis wives in their finest gowns, posing beside one of Willem de Kooning's grotesque "Women" portraits in a particularly perverse juxtaposition.
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.
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."
The art world changed dramatically in the 1970s and 1980s. The aesthetic beliefs Rauh held -- in pure form, in beauty, in the idea of art as a civilizing influence -- would come under attack from a barrage of postmodern theorists determined to read any mark on a canvas as a statement on hierarchical power. The phrase "cultural elite" would be used as denigration rather than a status to which anyone would want to aspire.
At a time when art institutions were accused of dis-serving or underserving a wide array of constituencies, Rauh left the museum. The woman who spent much of her time and energy cajoling local collectors into loaning works for exhibitions moved into a rank of privilege, wealth and possibility beyond any of them.
The Flavin retrospective was Pulitzer's last at SLAM. In 1973, she resigned as curator. Rauh, who had little interest in personality in art, was to marry one of the biggest personalities there ever was, Joseph Pulitzer Jr.
In the Foundation's east wing are two galleries of identical size and shape -- a cube -- one set directly above the other at the end of the grand main hall. The lower-level gallery displays great cubist works by Braque, Picasso and Juan Gris, along with a shapely Matisse sculpture and an early abstract head by Giacometti. The space has the highest concentration of paintings in the entire building yet is airy, spacious and uncluttered.
The gallery above is dominated by a large wall hanging by Serra, black oil stick on linen. The stapled canvas turns void into a palpable substance. Two Rothkos hang on opposite walls, gently lit. The fusion of colors shimmer as the viewer's eyes take in light. The juxtaposition of paintings creates an intake and outtake of light, like breath.
Harriet Traurig met Emily Pulitzer in 1984, when Traurig was selected as the first director of the Forum for Contemporary Art. She remains a close friend and colleague. Traurig, who lives in the Bay Area, where she works with an art-and-architecture program for the city of San Jose ("We're trying to retrofit some beauty," she remarks slyly), shares an intimate's view of the Pulitzer relationship.
"He was so different from her," she says. "Emmy is so serious and somber, although she does giggle and laugh and she's really funny. But Joe was so playful, and she's so serious. And they played that off of each other really well. They had similar eyes in art, and they both knew when something was right and when something wasn't right. They did that together. There were a lot of times when she got really frustrated with him. He was a big name and a big personality, and it would be 'Oh Joe, come on. Get off it.' They were just the perfect marriage, and you would never have thought that. She's much younger and so serious, and such a curator, and he was such a connoisseur."
Traurig describes the parallel galleries in the Foundation as a metaphor for the marriage. Downstairs is the early modernist Joe; upstairs is the early minimalist Emily.
The observation is an apt one, although it belies the complexity of the marriage and of the Foundation as well. The idea that Emily shunted Joe away from the pretty colors of Matisse to the dull brown Cor-Ten steel of Serra is one that many hold. It certainly was on the mind of New York Times critic John Russell when he wrote a review of an exhibition of the Pulitzer Collection at the Fogg Museum in 1988 (the collection traveled to SLAM as well). Russell describes Emily as "a museum professional with decided and forthright feelings about contemporary art" and questions whether "two disparate and quite possibly irreconcilable tastes would be discernible. Joseph Pulitzer's preference has always been for an art in which all puzzles have been resolved and a classical resolution has been reached. A great deal of contemporary art is, by contrast, in mid-puzzle and quite ready to tear itself apart."
Russell recognizes the perceived disparity -- between pre-Emily and post-Emily collections -- as fallacious. The contemporary art Emily introduced to St. Louis, and to Joseph Pulitzer in the 1960s, rarely packed "the shock of the new" (to appropriate Time critic Robert Hughes' phrase), and the schooled eye of her future husband recognized that (Joe's first wife, Louise Vauclain Pulitzer, who died in 1968, had an impact on the Pulitzer collection as well). A degree of classicism -- or "classical resolution," as Russell calls it -- is integral to the work Emily most admires. An appreciation of the elegant yet somehow grotesque line of a woman's neck in a Modigliani portrait is not too far removed from the pleasures found in the upheaval of contours experienced while walking through Serra's "Joe."
A classical resolution can be seen in "Joe," in how it provides a Cor-Ten anchor to Ando's vaporous concrete rather than disrupting the site with a jarring conflict of materials. In "Joe," a spiral of steel whose colors are reminiscent more of a desert canyon than of rusted metal, the walls fold in on each other and pull away, close then open to a center of sky.
To Traurig, "Joe" is more than a formal exposition, however. She believes the Serra provides a representation of "the true marriage" of the Pulitzers: disruptive yet lyrical, exuberant yet taut, an ultimate balancing act of formal expression.
Life is never so elegantly composed or so artistically resolved as a sculpture. Jan Greenberg recalls the dramatic change Emily had to negotiate in her life and career when she married the wealthy, charismatic Joe, 20 years her senior.
Jan and her husband, Ronald, met Rauh when she first came to work at SLAM. The relationship transformed the young couple's lives: "Ronnie" would eventually open his own gallery (now the Greenberg Van Doren Gallery in the Central West End), and Jan would write children's books about art (a biography of van Gogh is her latest).
"I think, for her, it was really a hard thing to give up the career, which was really, really important to her," says Jan Greenberg. "If she had married anybody else, it would not have made a difference. But it was a big shift. On the one hand, clearly she was in love and starting a great, grand life, but on the other hand, it was the end of a career she worked very, very hard at. The fact that she was still involved with artists and art and they were so supportive of each other made it different."
No doubt the reserved, serious Emily appeared even more so in relation to the gregarious, fun-loving Joe, especially when, as Greenberg maintains, "a lot of that reserve is shyness." But those who speak about Emily also refer to her strong will, and, rather than being subsumed by a large personality, in many ways Emily thrived in the marriage.
"They were just marvelous to be around," says Greenberg. "Joe was full of fun. When we were with them, it always brought out the best in us. We always felt we had to rise to the occasion when we traveled with them because there was always the sense of fun and good manners and being a good sport. I can't tell you how many horrible mountains I skiied down to be a good sport. Emmy just rose to the occasion of this skiing. She was very stalwart, and I was the klutz at the top of the mountain, ready to cry.
"It was an interesting time. Both had equal energy to see and do everything culturally. They both liked the same kinds of things. They liked exotic travel, looking at ruins and ancient art. They liked going to the galleries, and they liked going to the museums. They both had a similar passion for the same things. They had this to talk about, to share. They were very well suited in a lot of ways in terms of lifestyle. It doesn't seem that way, but there was a certain simplicity of lifestyle that they shared together."
When Traurig was director of the Forum, she observed a contrast between Emily the strict professional in the gallery and Emily the casual art lover in the Pulitzer home. "I learned everything from her," Traurig says. "I had an art background and I had been in the field for many years, and that's why I was selected to be the director of the Forum. But when I worked with her, I would work with her on installing a show in the Forum, and she was the one that taught me museum standards of white gloves and everything had to be perfect and don't put a pencil in your pocket and all of that stuff. Then I would go house-sit at that house [in the country] and there was no humidity control. These are only the [Monet] 'Water Lilies' and things like that. I wouldn't dare mention that to her, but it was really great."
Traurig describes Emily's change from curator to benefactor as one that was handled "very gracefully. I didn't know her then, but she's told me a lot of stories about those times. She is a very humble person. Now she'll say, 'I don't understand why people don't think I'm just a regular human being.' Well, you have a lot more money than regular human beings, and intelligence and everything else."
As Mrs. Pulitzer, Emily didn't allow her curatorial skills to atrophy. She was closely involved with the Forum and co-curated a hugely successful exhibition of the sculpture of Ellsworth Kelly, which appeared at both the Whitney and SLAM in 1982 and 1983, respectively.
She also became embroiled in the local public-art fiascoes of Sonfist and Serra in the '80s. "In part she got aggravated and said, 'Well, then, why do anything?'" Traurig recalls. "Then the next part was 'Keep going forward. Keep showing things, and we'll show the variety and we'll show the opportunities. We'll make sure people understand what this is about.' She's always been big on education and explaining things and not just saying, 'Because I said it's really good' -- that's not her at all."
Some of the luster of the Pulitzer name dimmed during the '80s as well. The Riverfront Times reported that art loaned to SLAM by the Pulitzers, for which they took a significant tax deduction, was actually being stored and exhibited in their homes.
Emily kept herself in the public arena, regardless of the criticism. One of her major accomplishments, and quiet successes, can be seen in the design of MetroLink.
When the plans for the light-rail system began to take shape in the '80s, Emily became intricately involved. "She was the one who almost single-handedly led the effort and said, 'If you're building this, then it could look nice, too,'" says Traurig.
Emily had to confront the intransigence, and lack of imagination, of bureaucratic skepticism. Recalls Traurig, "Bi-State kept responding, 'We want it on budget and on time,' and she kept saying, 'It could look nice, too.' She really led that crusade, single-handedly again, and said, 'If you have artists, artists can be on design teams. They can design bridges. They can design cars. They can design rights-of-ways. They can design canopies' -- things that St. Louis had never heard of and certainly, as you can imagine, Bi-State had never heard of.
"You've met Bi-State, I take it?" Traurig asks knowingly. "You can imagine. They had no interest in having artists on. The architects and engineers had absolutely no interest in having artists tell them what to do or how to do it. She just stayed with it and stayed with it and stayed with it and fought those battles and politically kept going to bat for the idea that artists will bring something special. And they did."
Working behind the scenes, Emily made her mark on one of the region's great success stories. MetroLink's unobtrusive color scheme of blue and gray, the recurring grid patterns, the gentle canopies at each station, the recurring Y-shaped electrical posts, the softly composed passenger cars -- the simplicity of form, line and color found in the minimalist art Emily champions is integral to the light rail's design. After 10 years, the stations and cars haven't lost their luster, and graffiti and vandalism are minimal. MetroLink works, and it looks good, too. With a stylistic sleight of hand, Emily managed to insert a touch of modernism into everyday St. Louis and, as is her way, deflected the recognition from herself.
Her next urban intervention would be much more dramatic and would inextricably be tied to her name. The Foundation's triumph now overshadows, and calls for a serious reconsideration, of the successes and disappointments of the past.
After the exhibition of the Pulitzer collection at the Fogg and SLAM in 1988, the Pulitzers came to realize that their two St. Louis homes lacked the space required to view many of the large-scale works in their possession. With this in mind, they purchased a former auto garage in Grand Center, a district of the city in which both took an active interest in reviving. Formerly the Great White Way of St. Louis, Grand Center held fond memories for Joe, who attended the theater there in his youth when the area was all aglitter.
They began the search for an architect, and Serra was the first to refer them to the work of Ando. At that time, the architect had designed buildings only in his native Japan, years before he would receive international acclaim by winning the Pritzker Award -- the pre-eminent accolade in an architect's career -- in 1995. James Wood, director of the Art Institute of Chicago and longtime friend of the Pulitzers -- he is now on the Foundation's board of trustees -- spoke encouragingly of Ando as well. The clincher was the referral of Ellsworth Kelly, who sent the Pulitzers photographs of exteriors and interiors of Ando's buildings, in one of which a Kelly painting was exhibited.
"With one voice," as Emily has said in press interviews, she and Joe proclaimed, "This is the architect we want to work with."
Ando and his wife flew from Japan to St. Louis to meet the Pulitzers; Emily and Joe met them at the airport. At the country house, Ando was captivated by Serra's "Pulitzer Piece." A sublime union of sensibilities emerged: the Pulitzers, Ando, Serra, Kelly -- modernists who still believed in beauty and its power to change lives in a world that had turned a cool postmodern shoulder to such outdated notions. They make up the least ironic group of collaborators to be assembled at the close of the 20th century.
Joe became ill and would die of cancer in 1993 at the age of 80. Emily was alone, with enormous resources and persistent responsibilities: the Pulitzer legacy. She was appointed director of the board of the Post-Dispatch. Traurig remembers that this was a difficult transition for Emily at first. "When she took on the job of going to work, she said, 'I don't know what I'm supposed to do when I go there, but I have an office with a shelf with some stuff.' But she figured it out. She had been involved. She hadn't been housewifey. She knew what the paper was about."
William Woo, whom Joe had selected as his successor as editor, gives his former boss high marks. He didn't see the uncertainty Emily masked. "She took that job very, very seriously," says Woo from his office at Stanford University, where he teaches journalism. "She was determined to be a good and competent director in her own right. She brought significant skills to the job. She brought significant intelligence to the job. She had been in a very tough world of art, with all its politics. She was certainly familiar with a large institution, which would be the St. Louis Art Museum, so she knew how institutions worked. She was bringing an individual perspective to that board.
"She had her ideas on what I ought to do," Woo laughs, "but those decisions were always left to me, and sometimes she was pleased with them and sometimes she wasn't."
Pulitzer's focus would shift back to "the tough world of art" in the '90s as the dream of the Foundation began to take hold. On a trip to Japan, one she had planned to take with Joe, Pulitzer saw Ando's buildings with her own eyes. When Pulitzer returned, she commissioned Ando to design a whole new structure, one that would be built without compromising the integrity of the architect or the vision of the client.
"I think it took on a life of its own," says Traurig. "When she saw what Ando was doing she became so enthusiastic about it. She didn't know that much about him when it started; she just fell in love with the idea of it. It didn't make sense to try to retrofit a building as opposed to just do the whole thing. But I think the size and scale and scope of the project were probably a surprise to her, too. It took off."
Walls were poured and repoured until they were exact and achieved a consistent texture throughout. Although the cost of the Ando has been estimated at $17 million, that figure is probably low considering the time, labor and materials Pulitzer invested in producing an uncompromised work of architecture.
Pulitzer did not keep herself at a patrician's remove. Her white hair covered with a hard hat, her feet in workboots, she was a frequent visitor to the construction site and a full participant in guiding Ando's conception to realization. After the Foundation was completed, one of the first receptions Pulitzer gave was for the construction workers and their families.
But as the concrete walls began to take shape on the vacant lot near the intersection of Washington and Spring avenues, the Foundation suffered from public-relations gaffes. Pulitzer did not communicate clearly what the Foundation was supposed to be, because the mission itself was as much a work in progress as the building. At first the Foundation was to be for artists and scholars only, causing some consternation in city government, which had granted the land in Grand Center to Pulitzer for nothing. Then, it was reported, the Foundation would provide limited access, but how limited? A New York Times article questioned the legitimacy of the Foundation's nonprofit status. Why should a public institution receive a tax exemption if it wasn't fully open to the public?
It didn't help that as the building rose it looked like a concrete bunker, which seemed an apt metaphor for the Foundation as well. A flap over access to the disabled was handled ineptly by the Foundation's attorneys and appointed spokespersons. Pulitzer caved in grudgingly to the need for an elevator and ramps, it appeared, as if pure form was being corrupted for the sake of wheelchairs.
Pulitzer is one of the wealthiest citizens of St. Louis and one of its most private. The cold concrete walls were a reflection of her demeanor, it seemed. The woman who delivered "Twain" now was planting opaque rectangles of concrete on an already fractured urban landscape.
Traurig sees the eventual resolution of the Foundation -- for the public (on Wednesdays and Saturdays) and for artists and scholars -- as part of the continuing dialogue between Joe and Emily. "I think that's probably Joe's influence," says Traurig. "If it had been just Emmy, it would have been a place for scholarship, because that's how she thinks -- not because she's selfish at all; it's just the way she thinks. If it had been Joe, it would have been 'Let's let everybody come and look and share and learn from this.'
"I think after he died she was more sensitive to his opinions because she was more aware of them."
When viewers enter the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, they find the space within those walls warm, expansive, even revelatory. The concrete invites touch the way velvet does. These hard materials play in sunlight, the gradations of the day. The art inside is, at times, literally breathtaking: Monet's "Wisteria" and "Water Lilies," Rothko's shimmering canvases, Picasso's woman in a yellow dress who locks the viewer in midgaze. More than a display of art, the Foundation provides intimacy.
Emily Pulitzer may keep at a cool remove, and what she gives she gives on her own terms, but she has given an incalculable experience of art and architecture to a city that has not been wholly appreciative of what she has brought it before.
Rather than offer Cor-Ten steel in the public square, Pulitzer has delivered a building in which art -- her art -- can be viewed in an intimate manner. She invites the public in rather than placing her aesthetic in the thoroughfare.
Before the building was completed, when it was rectangles of concrete on a barren lot, it seemed like an architecture of a past time -- a last modernist gasp amid postmodern squalor. But now that the Ando is a finished work, Pulitzer's long-held aesthetic seems to have been a sure one. She has planted a brazen flag, an aesthetic mark. With the Foundation, Pulitzer makes a stand for the values she has developed and maintained since she was a Bryn Mawr undergrad in the 1950s. As Kelly's wall sculpture confirms, a tall strip of aluminum spray-painted blue and black has all the vitality a work of art needs and some of the inspiration a life needs. The principles of form, line, light, space and color; the belief in beauty and the civilizing influence of art -- they're believable here, just as faith is reassured in a precious sanctuary.