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The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis have joined together to create the Contemporary-Pulitzer blog which, for the first time, combines the perspectives of two separate institutions with differing missions within the same blog.

Offering alternating posts each day from the Pulitzer and Contemporary, the blog provides a candid look at the behind-the-scenes workings of both arts organizations.

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Musician Interviews

To continue this week of guest blog posts, I recently interviewed Peter Henderson, who performed Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes a few weeks ago at the Pulitzer. Our next chamber concerts aren’t until September (the summer is off-season for the Symphony), but I’m hoping to make interviews with musicians a regular feature. Here’s Peter on the complexities of the prepared piano and what its like to perform at the Pulitzer:

How long have you been with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and where did you work previously?

I’m actually only an occasional extra keyboardist with the St. Louis Symphony, not an orchestra member. Barbara Liberman is our keyboard section leader (she jokes that she’s our “section mother”), and as the Principal player she does most of the keyboard work in orchestral concerts. I’m fortunate to have been frequently involved in chamber music presented by the SLSO since 2002, as well as to have played several times with the orchestra. It’s an honor and a pleasure working with the fantastic musicians of the SLSO and their brilliant music director, David Robertson.

I do work full-time at Maryville University in St. Louis, where I serve as Assistant Professor of Music. After graduate school, my first post was as a member of the resident quartet at the Garth Newel Music Center in Hot Springs, Virginia.

The program performed on June 5th consisted of Sonatas and Interludes by John Cage. Have you performed this work before?

I performed it first at the St. Louis Community College-Forest Park on May 5th at the invitation of Dr. Thomas Zirkle. This first performance went fairly well, and that gave me confidence leading up to the performance at the Pulitzer.

Could you describe the process of preparing a piano and what you had to do for this piece?

This Cage work is unusual in many ways, but its most obvious individual characteristic is the timbre of the piano when dampened so thoroughly by bits of hardware. The idea of preparing the piano was primarily developed by John Cage in the late 1930s, and was manifested as an exploratory method of expanding the tone-production capabilities of the conventional piano, altering string lengths and resonating qualities by placing bolts, screws, rubber and plastic mutes, etc. between specific strings.

I began my study of the Sonatas and Interludes by Googling for tips on how others prepared the piano for performances of this work; I soon learned that Cage’s Table of Preparations appearing before the music in the printed score is not as precise as I had at first assumed. After making some guesses about appropriate relative sizes and characteristics of hardware (my wife Kristin thought of using vinyl weather-stripping instead of rubber, which worked marvelously, I used fragments of a cut-up “Books-A-Million” club card for the required plastic), my wife kindly went to Home Depot for me and bought all of the bits-and-pieces on my shopping list.

How did you prepare for the performance at the Pulitzer?

Because I did not want to prepare my piano at home according to Cage’s instructions (partly because such preparation makes a piano useless for practicing conventional music), I first prepared a piano at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park on the day of my May performance there. This was a gamble, but luckily my chosen set of materials worked well in the 9-foot Baldwin grand at Forest Park and I assumed (correctly it turns out) that it would function even better in a 7-foot Steinway at the Pulitzer. Once I had the mechanical preparation in hand, I set about refining my understanding of the music itself. I did this first through score study and listening. I bought a couple of contrasting recordings of the Sonatas and Interludes: Boris Berman’s fine performance on Naxos and Steffen Schleiermacher’s very concentrated rendition on Dabringhaus und Grimm. Each one of these recordings taught me some useful things about the score (including some of the pitches–John Cage’s handwritten script as reproduced in the Peter’s score is rather difficult to read), but I didn’t practice at the keyboard until the end of the month, when the rental Steinway was delivered to the Pulitzer.

I had realized after my first performance of the work that practice on an unprepared piano is not very helpful, so I asked whether it might be possible to practice on the performance piano (after preparing it well in advance) at the Pulitzer. Matthias and Elise were extremely generous in allowing me to practice intensively at the Pulitzer for a week before the concert. I believe that I was actually at the performance piano for 20-some hours during that week. The most helpful thing that I did during this time was to record the entire work three separate times. Each informal recording session taught me several musical details that I needed to approach differently in order to make the performance better!

One of the key aspects in our chamber concert series is the interaction between the music and the work on view. Do you feel there is this interaction and does the art work influence your performance at all?

In this particular case, I was so involved with the eccentricities of the prepared piano that I didn’t give much consideration to the art on display at the Pulitzer. I believe that I understand, however, why Maestro Robertson felt that Sugimoto’s photographic studies of the sculpture Joe would merge well with Cage’s prepared piano masterpiece: both Sugimoto’s photographs and Cage’s pieces are highly focused upon a restricted aspect of human experience. The Cage work seems to explore its exotic sound world so thoroughly over the course of an hour that we sense its limitations and are ready once again to embrace the generic, universal sound of an unprepared piano. Sugimoto’s photographs, with their stark emphasis on line, shape and form, draw us to consider the essential solidity of their single subject, in spite of the ethereal quality of the images). To me, these works of Sugimoto and Cage engender reflective, inwardly oriented experiences in the perceiver.

You’ve performed a number of times at the Pulitzer. Do you have a favorite concert so far?

I’m a music lover, not just a professional! I listen to recordings at home for fun after playing concerts. This love makes it more difficult for me to pick out particular favorites among concerts, because I tend to enjoy them all to varying degrees. The Grisey work performed during spring 2006 was a very satisfying project, even though it was particularly thorny for all of the performers. Perhaps my favorite performances were the December 2004 concert featuring Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time and this recent Cage recital. As a musician, I’m very grateful for Emmy Pulitzer’s vision in opening this remarkable institution to music as well as the visual arts. This singularly beautiful space lends a unique focus to the art on display, and it also turns out to have a fantastic crystal-clear acoustic. The energy and quality of the collaboration between the SLSO and the Pulitzer are remarkable and I hope that it continues for a good long time!

Do you have a favorite memory or anecdote you’d like to share from either performing or rehearsing for a concert at the Pulitzer?

I’d just like to thank the staff of the Pulitzer for being so helpful leading up to the Cage concert. The two Steves who are the facilities managers were very kind to allow a grand piano to take up some of their workspace for over a week. They also loaned me a tape measure and needle-nosed pliers to help with the preparation of the rental piano!

Programming Part Deux

After Sugimoto closes in October, the next exhibition on view at the Pulitzer will be Portrait/Homage/Embodiment and opens November 3rd. Therefore this summer we’ll be focusing quite a bit on what kinds of programming we would like in conjunction with this exhibition. One we will definitely be continuing is the French student docent program we started during Minimalism and Beyond (read about it here and here). The plan is to work with Nancy Durbin, professor at Lindenwood University, again but to expand the program to include more high schools and university classes throughout the St. Louis area. One of the students in the Minimalism French program, Rebecca, just sent me a great post about her experience in the program. Feedback is always helpful, and this post will definitely give us inspiration as we plan part deux.

When my French professor asked some of the French majors at Lindenwood University if we would like to learn how to study and give a tour of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, I didn’t know what to think. I love art but modern art, especially in the line of Minimalism like the exhibition we were to learn about, was not my forte. I love most classic scenic paintings and statues of people one can recognize. I did not know anything about Minimalism and the ideas behind the art form. Nor did I know anything about the Pulitzer. However, I decided to be involved in the project knowing only that I love French, I love art, and I love an adventure. It turned out to be quite an adventure!!

Four students, including myself, arrived with our professor not knowing what to expect of the building, the people who work there, or the art. I only knew what the Pulitzer’s website told us about Minimalism and that didn’t allude to the breathtaking experience we had the first time, or the second time, or any of the following times.

The building is filled with light and every corner hides a completely different facet of the building, which one can only discover by exploring. Each gallery is drastically different and each has its own moods and emotions which it shares with the viewer. The art displayed in the galleries adds to the mood, but doesn’t take away from it or hinder the viewer from experiencing the character of the building. The structure is strong and the walls thick, but the light is free to move about the rooms, playing with reflections and shadows on the walls. One feels that the experience of merely being in the building is more than just being in a structure made for art. The structure of the building is art. The building complemented the Minimalist exhibition perfectly, sometimes physically supporting a work, sometimes serving as the space for the light of a work to play in. Studying the works of Flavin, Serra and others was amazing, but I will go back time after time to the Pulitzer to enjoy the building itself, which was apparently designed lovingly with careful thought given to every corner, bit of wall, floor and ceiling.

The wonderful people who work at the Pulitzer have an admirable sense of respect for the art displayed there. Those who can guide an observer on tours have ample knowledge of the art and the building, and respect even ideas that they might not have understood at first, but through careful study grew to respect. They made the Pulitzer the place of peace and aspiration that it is. A building with character is wonderful, but people with character are valuable beyond any structure. Without the people who work at the Pulitzer to keep it as a sanctuary for the arts, it would not be the place that I look forward to seeing again. Besides, without artists, who would have art? The workers at the Pulitzer care about society and helping people, and that is more important than even keeping art in society. Thank you for making our project a successful and beautiful experience! (Rebecca, Lindenwood University student)

Time Lapse

Today the blog From the Floor had a post about our recently launched web catalogue, and in particular, the time lapse photography on the site. I thought this would be a good opportunity to provide some background information on how this came about. Here’s a post by Elise (Foundation Coordinator) who worked closely with our web company and photographers on this project. (Rachel)

Rachel told you in her last blog about our newly launched website catalogue for the Sugimoto exhibition. In addition to background info, an interview with the artist, and a variety of images, one special feature of this catalogue is a segment of time lapse-photography taken in our Main Gallery.

To capture the necessary images, our photographer set up a camera (looking south in the gallery towards Blue Black) that had a timer feature. Every five minutes, the camera automatically took a picture. After 24 hours, we had collected a total of 288 images that were then strung together in a time progression. We eliminated the nighttime images that we pure darkness (lucky for you!), but keep the ones that showed the sunrise and sunset. Of course, we faced a couple of challenges in this project, including determining the perfect placement of the camera, and keeping people (mainly our staff) out of the gallery for a full day (yellow police tape did the trick!). We also, unexpectedly, ran into a problem of security lights in some of our galleries. At night, these lights come on in our Cube and Lower Galleries, and they ended up disrupting sunset images. Some adjustments of the lights and an extra day of photography took care of this problem.

The resulting video segment helped me realize just how critical Ando’s use of natural light is to the Pulitzer’s architecture and to the experience of the artwork in the galleries.

Sugimoto Web Catalogue

This afternoon is the much anticipated launch of our Sugimoto online catalogue (cue brass band and ticker tape parade). In my opinion, it’s our best yet. Check out the following features:

360 views of the Pulitzer galleries. For those who live on the other side of the world, here’s your chance to experience the exhibition from your very own home! You can navigate through the QuickTime videos yourself or view static images of the galleries installed with Sugimoto photographs.

Time lapse photography. The effects of natural light on the space is an important feature of the Pulitzer architecture. This component of the catalogue allows you to experience the Main Gallery from sunrise to sunset and to view the dramatic way the light changes the space.

Interview with Sugimoto. On the day of the opening, Sugimoto sat down with Deborah Martin Kao (Curator, Harvard Art Museums) to talk about the Joe series. Watch video clips and gain additional insight into Sugimoto’s thoughts and ideas.

View the publication Joe. This book is available at the Pulitzer and features additional photographs from the series as well as a corresponding prose poem written by Jonathan Safran Foer. Scroll through and experience the book in its entirety.

Also available today is the visitor brochure, featuring the above mentioned interview with Sugimoto and background text on the exhibition. So come by the Pulitzer, pick one up, explore the exhibition, then explore again online when you get home.

Paper and Candy Donations

Our previous installation, Minimalism and Beyond, featured two works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres:

Minimalism_cube_gallery One included an installation of 355 pounds of candy.

Gonzaleztorres_paper_stackOne included an installation of two stacks of paper, each 26 inches high.

Visitors were allowed to take the pieces of paper (one stack had text that read “Nowhere better than this place” the other stack had text that read “Somewhere better than this place”) as well as pieces of candy as a part of experiencing the art work. Therefore, after open days, these works had to be replenished. To do this, 550 pounds of candy (can you imagine that much candy at your work?? We were on a sugar high for about 6 months) and 16, 000 sheets of paper were ordered.

It was inevitable that all this was not completely used. So what do you do with pounds of candy and stacks upon stacks of paper? Donate them to an elementary school! Shaw Elementary, a school that integrates the visual and performing arts into their curriculum, will be picking up their shipment of paper and candy.

Paper_and_candy Here they are, packed and ready for pick up.

We haven’t yet heard what projects they are planning, nor how they plan to pick up the goods (a forklift might be needed), but it’ll no doubt go to good use.

Arts Walks

Today we had our “debriefing meeting” regarding last Friday’s Arts Walk in Grand Center. For those who aren’t from St. Louis, Grand Center is a neighborhood that’s home to a large number of arts organizations, the Pulitzer and Contemporary included.

Those who participated came armed with visitor totals and a synopsis of their strategic planning for this event. However, the discussion quickly turned towards brainstorming for future walks. The next one will be on September 29th (we’re getting into the pattern of having a walk every fall and spring) and we discussed ways to provide activities along the street and ways to encourage more foot traffic between the institutions. Key points we are hoping to convey include how walkable the neighborhood is and how much Grand Center really has to offer in terms of the arts.

Kansas City has a fantastic example– the Crossroads neighborhood has First Friday, an arts walk that takes place on (you guessed it) the first Friday of every month. Read an article about it here. I did some preliminary research on other districts and found a few that seemed to really have their acts together: the Dallas Arts District and Portland, Maine for example. Dallas has an interactive map of the area that highlights each arts institution, and it looks as though Portland is working on something similar. I love that Portland has a site dedicated completely to their arts walk. If you have any examples of arts walks you’ve enjoyed around the country, write a comment! I’d love to hear all about it.


Right now in St. Louis it is 78 degrees and sunny which, to the Pulitzer staff, equals perfect weather to eat lunch outside. One of the many wonderful parts of our building is the Mezzanine, which features a pygmy bamboo garden (from what I’ve been told, the biggest outside of Japan!), an aerial view of Joe in the courtyard, and tables and chairs that are picnic-perfect. The only downside is that it’s that much more difficult to go back inside and concentrate on work afterwards.

Roof_garden_1 Here’s a view from the Mezzanine, looking south over the pygmy bamboo.

Roof Here’s a view looking towards the east (below the wall you see in the forefront is the watercourt).

In non-food related news, the Grand Center Arts Walk last Friday went off without a hitch. We had a great turnout (especially considering temperatures that were hot enough to melt the cheese we put out for the reception). Later this week, we are having a “de-briefing” with all the institutions involved to discuss how it went throughout the district and ideas for walks in the future. Additionally, we’re meeting this afternoon to discuss ideas for further activities and collaboration between arts institutions in Grand Center. I’ll be sure to report back with any interesting news!

Navigating Grand Center

The Pulitzer and the Contemporary are located in the Grand Center neighborhood of St. Louis. This neighborhood has gone through many phases, and is now on the upswing. According to Grand Center’s website, the area boasts over 30 arts organizations. Not bad for a little area in mid-St. Louis that used to be considered “blighted”.

Tonight is a chance for you to really find out how far Grand Center has come. Arts institutions will be open from 5-8pm throughout the area and many will feature complimentary refreshments in honor of the festivities. Since we are friendly neighbors and co-bloggers, the Pulitzer and the Contemporary will be hosting a reception together in our shared courtyard.

Use the handy map (see below), stroll through the neighborhood, and find out how walkable it really is (on our section of street alone, there are 4 different arts organizations–including a two-in-one concert hall and art gallery at the Sheldon). If you don’t feel like walking, we’ll also have three-wheel taxis that will take you from place to place.

Art, free refreshments, and three-wheel taxi rides? Can it get much better than that? Turns out it can! After you explore the galleries, you have three, yes three, choices to conclude your evening. You can attend the opening night of Circus Flora, the first Friday performance of the Phantom of the Opera at the Fox Theatre, or catch a performance of Dreamgirls at the Grandel.

It’s a perfect Friday evening. Not that I’m biased or anything. Now cross your fingers that it doesn’t rain….


Aerial Views

On Tyler Green’s blog today he links to a fantastic aerial view of the Met in New York. It made me want to see an aerial view of the Pulitzer. Since we’ve never rented a helicopter (though wouldn’t that be an exciting day at work), we don’t have any really dramatic views, but here’s a few that we do have of our courtyard from the top of our building:



I decided to type our address into Google maps to take a look at the satellite image. Here’s the link –you might have to zoom in and move towards the left a bit on the map if it doesn’t do that already. I was hoping I could post the actual picture in here, but I don’t think that’s allowed. However, if anyone has some interesting satellite or aerial images of the Pulitzer or Grand Center that I can post, let me know. As you can see in the link, the Contemporary is still under construction which means the image is probably from around 2002 or 2003. However, it’s really interesting to see what the area looked like a few years ago. It’s a valuable historical document for other reasons too–in the parking lot you can see a few of our staff member’s old cars that now reside in junk yards. Plus, doesn’t Joe look fantastic??

Practicing Piano

Tonight is the first chamber concert in the “Sugimoto Series” at the Pulitzer. Only one piece will be played tonight (check out my previously post on this here) and it’s John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. Peter Henderson, pianist for the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, was here this afternoon rehearsing and I snuck into the Main Gallery to take some pictures.



This time of year, the lighting in the Main Gallery is at its most dramatic. That beam of light cuts down the wall, across the floor, and seems to point directly at Peter as he rehearses. Tonight the concert starts at 7:30pm, and though the lighting will be completely different, I’m sure it will look no less spectacular.

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Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts 3716 Washington Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63108
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