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“Great art, sterile building”

Pulitzer Arts Foundation
Ranked #83 of 268 things to do in Saint Louis
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Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours
Owner description: The Pulitzer Arts Foundation presents art in dynamic interplay with architecture, offering unexpected experiences and inspiring new perspectives. Valuing contemplation, close looking, and civic engagement, the Pulitzer brings art and people together.
Reviewed July 20, 2011

I combined this with a visit to the City Diner (next to the Fox theatre) and the Modern Art Gallery next door - a pleasant morning excursion in St. Louis's virtually abandoned midtown.

I enjoy modern architecture, but the "grain silo" chic did nothing for me: a strangely lifeless building with dead light and impractical corridors that go nowhere. The current dreams exhibition has classic paintings by Ernst, Chirico et al, but they are poorly served both by the building, and by pretentious curation. One the one hand, there are no labels as they would "would distract from the paintings", on the other hand, there are innumerable museums guards in bright clothing standing very close to the paintings. Nothing could be more distracting or more unnecessary.

The whole thing feels like a Hearstian fantasy of a private art gallery (reinforced by the very unfriendly exterior). Do go and visit - it's free, it's interesting - and make up your own mind!

3  Thank bolbec
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Reviewed March 2, 2011

I do not know what the world of high art did to upset some people, but I certainly appreciate that someone funded this museum with their excess money, versus the many other private wastes in which they could have indulged. The museum is open on Wednesdays and is free to the public. There is no pretentiousness at the door, or in the beauty of the building or its works, at least that I could see. Yes, they are proud of the building, but it is a beautiful work of art on its own.

The museum houses collections drawn from their own and others holdings and presents these to the public for edification, for inspiration, for stimulation -- all of what art is there to do. So much of the beauty is out of reach for most of us, that I greatly appreciate the effort to provide small, well-curated presentations to give me enough to think and be overwhelmed in a way that I can handle, in a way that I can be uplifted or challenged, and not come away drained.

The interior space lends itself very well for such a purpose. The rules of the museum are simple and straightforward, and you are given the freedom to enjoy the art at your leisure, without hassle, and seemingly without the crowds. While the personal bent of one or another curator/patron may be minimalist, the museum certainly does not restrict itself to one style or the other, as is evidenced in the collection on display currently.

Until August 2011, the exhibition of the Dreamscape is showcased by several works of Rene Magritte, Max Beckmann, Philip Guston, Constantin Brancusi, Joan Miro, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Delvaux, Max Ernst, Giorgio de Chirico, and others. My favorites were The Invisible World by Rene Magritte and Georg Baselitz' Landscape with Pathos, on loan from the St. Louis Art Museum.

If you have a Wednesday free and are at all uplifted by art, then you are doing yourself a disservice not to come to this. I was tempted to give it a 'four', because the hours are awkward and there are no benches to sit and enjoy your favorite pieces for a while longer. But it's free and those are fairly mild and whiny complaints. Despite my reluctance in handing out 'fives,' I did anyway.


2  Thank TravT
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed February 6, 2009

The Pulitzer is a small museum which is very easy to enjoy in a short time. The building is perfectly suited for the art normally displayed there. The Pulitzer has also hosted recent temporary exhibits which have been fascinating and beautifully presented. Hopefully this will be a continuing trend. I have never had an unpleasant experience there and the docents offer to assist but are completely unobtrusive if you don't want them around. However, if you have a question, they are very helpful. This is quite a bit different than larger museums where tracking down information about particular pieces in the collection is not so easy, on a one to one basis. The Serra piece outdoors, commissioned by the Pulitzers and titled, Joe, after Joe Pulitzer, is one of the most accessible Serra sculptures I have seen. The large spiral which one walks like a maze path encompasses its space beautiful, and the sky through its portal becomes a new experience. The museum has no gift shop and hawks no wares. It is free during its public hours . Usually it is linked through its outdoor garden in back to the Contemporary Art Museum next door, which has a gift shop and also a small cafe. There are not usually many people in the museum, so it can be quite restful to walk through the quiet space with its clean lines. The pool in the outside well between the building wings and the lighting into the interior are exquisite. In a short time here one can have a very memorable experience. The building alone would be worth a visit, even if there wasn't a single painting or sculpture displayed inside.

1  Thank JoyM
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed April 6, 2006

I visited the Foundation for the third time while visiting Saint Louis two weeks ago for a weekend. I always try to visit when I am in Saint Louis because of the interesting pieces on display. I am NOT a big fan of minimalist art or even modern art but this is a very small collection on display in a very unique building presented in a way I have never seen before. It is if you are in someone's house looking at their art....no labels on the walls telling what you are seeing. Its all in the guidebook given to you FREE when you enter this FREE museum. I enjoy visiting the building and its collection and delight in taking first-time visitors to see it too. Often there are art students from local universities there answering questions and I always try to engage them in conversations about a certain piece and also about their art and their future plans after graduation.

1  Thank DeKalbtraveler
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed March 28, 2006

As a St. Louis resident, I have had three opportunities to visit the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. Each time I've come away feeling intensely repelled, yet strangely fascinated, and usually with enough motivation for a repeat visit... once I get over my overall feeling of nausea.

For those not yet in the know, the Pulitzer Foundation is a small private museum--primarily a showcase for Emily and the late Joseph Pulitzer's private collection--opened freely to the public two days a week. Visitors may walk around on their own or join a docent-led guided tour. The Foundation also sponsors lectures, concerts and other cultural activities, for which the museum usually serves as a venue. The official back story is that the Pulitzers, of newspaper fame and fortune, wished to give this museum as a way of sharing their art and expressing their appreciation for the St. Louis community. One suspects that the true story is more nuanced, but to even contemplate that possibility would cut against the First Rule of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts: Emily Pulitzer is a hero deserving of cult-like appreciation. If you visit the museum, do yourself a favor and never forget the First Rule.

The airy, open, all-concrete building, designed by Tadao Ando, was widely hailed for its architectural significance when it was completed in 2001. It's a pleasant place, filled with intriguing spaces and vistas, and I would say it deserves the praise it's received.

The museum more generally, however, fails on a couple of points that are important to me. The Pulitzers' collection leans heavily towards Minimalist works for which I personally have an extremely meager appreciation. (Richard Serra and Ellsworth Kelly appear to be their fetish artists.) Now I know that my taste in art is my problem, not anyone else's, and I know that there is something valuable to be taken from any work of art, but the Pulitzers' heap of black monochromes and rusting steel has a distinct the-emperor-has-no-clothes feel to it. If you disagree violently with me on this, then you are going to love this museum.

If you agree with me, though, keep your mouth shut. The docents at the Foundation (mostly artists themselves) appear to have been conditioned to jump down the throat of anyone uttering even the slightest negative, critical, or even questioning opinion. This will happen to you even if you try, as I have, to keep your opinion to yourself on the whole. They are looking for a fight. The docents I've met have all been artists themselves and are hyper-defensive about their medium. They are definitely interested in fostering a conversation about art, but only if you toe the line and agree that there is nothing more brilliant than a pile of caramels.

Because the art being exhibited is mostly privately owned, there's often a personal connection between the Pulitzers and the artist. A few works were even commissioned specifically for the Foundation. This is wonderful, but the docents act as if they're personally close friends of the artists, referring to them on an exclusively first-name basis. Honest ingenuity or pretentious self-elevation? You make the call.

The museum is also suffused with a bizarre hero-worship directed towards the Pulitzers. Certainly, as the patrons (and owners) of this museum, they are entitled to a little respect and appreciation, but here it's a little creepy. The docents also appear to be fearful that Emily Pulitzer is personally watching them give their tours. When someone in my tour group accidentally brushed a sculpture, the docent scolded him violently, then looked around in a panic and declared to no one in particular, "I didn't see him do it! It wasn't my fault!" The museum's stated goal is to be like a house where the public can come visit Emily Pulitzer and her art, but the staff's paranoia will leave you wondering, "Is this how you treat your guests?"

At best the Pulitzer Foundation is an exercise in ostentatious bourgeoisie. Sure, I would also like to have $25 million to spend on such an exercise. Readers may call me a monster for assassinating a gift to the public and a benefactress of the art world. Maybe I am, but maybe I am just a meritocrat who is wondering if there are truly no critical voices in the art world today.

8  Thank Ferrites
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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