For some time now the Pulitzer Arts Foundation has been contemplating its future. With a mission to spread its wings and better engage with the community, the arts organisation has made several recent changes. It tweaked its name, changing it from the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts to the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, to subtly emphasise its focus on the arts. It hired a new director from New York, and it tapped Japanese architect Tadao Ando to expand the landmark building he designed in 2001.
Opened on 1 May, the expansion adds 3,600 sq ft of space, most of it galleries, to the 6,800 sq ft building nearly doubling the Pulitzer’s programmable space. Happily, the expansion takes place within the building envelope at the lower level, wholly preserving the appearance of the original structure, which is widely admired for its sublime proportions, the quality of light that permeates the interior spaces, and for the experience navigating through. The expansion creates two new galleries that are connected to the main level by a second stairway. Unlike the main level galleries, the new galleries are flexible and can be reconfigured or cordoned off entirely depending on needs.
For the opening, The Pulitzer Arts Foundation has put on view three concurrent exhibitions of works by Alexander Calder, Richard Tuttle and Fred Sandback that operate at the intersection of art and architecture and speak also to the essential qualities of Ando’s building; space, form and light. The Calder exhibition, titled Calder Lightness, includes large scale mobiles that are suspended from the building’s ceiling and standing mobiles. These works showcase the building’s large volumes and its ever changing relationship with light, which permeates the galleries through hidden slots in the ceiling and through the adjacent reflecting pool. The Richard Tuttle exhibition features the artist’s famous wire pieces, which explore line and volume to form a multilayered sculptural experience. Tuttle’s works directly engage Ando’s building to create three dimensional works that are dependent on architectural space and light to come alive. The third exhibition, Fred Sandback’s 64 Three Part Pieces, makes use of three lines of yarn stretched across an exhibition gallery to form 64 different configurations. It offers the viewer a multi varied experience and perspective of space and its many possibilities.
The new galleries are seamlessly integrated with the existing building and it would take some doing to know that they were not built at the same time. The new concrete is remarkably similar in appearance to that of the existing building, only with a slight cast of newness that will eventually fade in time. To give The Pulitzer greater visibility on the street and in the community, new signage has been added at the building’s entrance. Prior to doing so, the arts organisation was difficult to find and was known mostly to insiders who knew where it was located or recognised it as soon as they came upon the Ando building. The signage is a bit of a blight on the quiet building, a little like noise in a sanctuary. Knowing the good people at the Pulitzer, I’m sure adding it was a painful and long deliberated decision, a necessary evil as they say.
Save for this minor flaw, The Pulitzer Arts Foundation sings with excitement, as this remarkable and well-respected arts institution enters a new era. With the capability to now host more of its thoughtful exhibitions and innovative programmes, The Pulitzer Arts Foundation has gotten infinitely better without getting much bigger. As such, it has something to teach those arts organisations that are contemplating larger-than-life expansions.