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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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Becoming One with Hiroshi Sugimoto’s ‘Sea of Buddha’

Raheem Thorpe, a Staging actor, talks about Sugimoto’s Sea of Buddha and how he feels about being back at the Pulitzer since being part of Staging Old Masters.

by Amy Broadway, Interim PR Coordinator

One of the main goals of Staging workshops is that the actors personally connect with the artworks in Reflections of the Buddha. The company will craft and perform scenes in the spring based on musings about the stars of the exhibition, such as Prince Shotoku, the giant sculpture of a left hand, or perhaps Oscar Munoz’s La Línea del Destino (Line of Destiny). The works haven’t been officially chosen yet, and it will be interesting to see what gets picked.

Several Fridays ago, Agnes Wilcox, the artistic director of Prison Performing Arts and the workshop leader, asked the actors to pair off, peruse the exhibition, and speculate about the images they saw. Afterwards, the exhibition’s curator, Francesca Herndon-Consagra, led Staging through the galleries, sharing her knowledge of the artistry, cultural history, and meaning behind the works.

In the video above, Raheem Thorpe, a graduate of the Staging Old Masters program, talks about how he and his peers first interpreted Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Sea of Buddha and what they learned from Francesca. The last time I saw Raheem, he was working with teaching artist Jenny Murphy in Urban Renewal, part of the Urban Alchemy series of programs Transformation. You can see him interviewed in 2010 here. He’s great on camera, and I look forward to seeing him on stage (Staging will perform in the galleries alongside the art).

As a side note, many of you may recall that this is not the first time the Pulitzer has been graced with Sugimoto creations. As we celebrate our tenth year–which officially began in October– we’re looking back at past exhibitions and web catalogues. Click here for another blast from the past, a look at our 2006 exhibition Hiroshi Sugimoto: Photographs of Joe.

Being is Open to Change

by Carianne Noga, Programs and Gallery Assistant

Over the past few months, I have had the pleasure and fortune of becoming acquainted with many members of the Buddhist Council of Greater St. Louis. They have generously and enthusiastically shared their time and energy with the Pulitzer in developing and facilitating many aspects of the diverse programming for Reflections of the Buddha. In particular, I have been working with several local Buddhist groups affiliated with the Council, to coordinate the Pulitzer’s phenomenally successful meditation series.

Not knowing how incredibly popular this series would turn out to be, each week has brought its own set of challenges. The first week was very exciting for all of us planning it, and we did everything we could think of to be prepared for hosting the 50-60 people we expected. It was a particularly funny thing we didn’t think of though–what do you do with the castoff shoes of 50 meditators? Oops! We did not plan for the piles of footwear, but by the second week we had assembled shelving to further eliminate what could have been a potential fire hazard. Now, if only we could count on everyone to actually use the cubbies! Of course, we continue to do our duty to keep the space safe and comfortable, but this requires a certain amount of finesse and thinking on the fly.

Read the rest of this entry »

The story unfolds for “Goddess of Compassion”

by Elise Johnson, Assistant Registrar

One of the works included in Reflections of the Buddha is an accordion-fold scroll on loan from Harvard Art Museums. This gorgeous manuscript focuses on the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, commonly known as the “Goddess of Compassion”. The text and images within the scroll illustrate the calamities and dangers from which the deity will save any worshipper who cries out her name, as well as the diverse forms that Avalokiteśvara can take in order to make the Buddha’s teachings understood to any aspiring believer.

The scroll is an extremely long piece. Composed of 112 leaves, the work reaches a length of over 45 feet when completely laid out. As you can imagine, this size makes it difficult to display the entire manuscript at any one time. Thus, throughout the exhibition period at the Pulitzer, we will rotate the segments that are on view, allowing the returning visitor the opportunity to see different sections of text and image. In addition, since the scroll dates to the 15th century and is made of indigo-dyed paper, the work is vulnerable to light. Rotating the pages provides the added bonus of not exposing one segment of the scroll for too long of a period of time.

The first pages of the sutra have been on view since we opened the exhibition in early September. This Wednesday will provide visitors with their first chance to examine the subsequent leaves of the scroll. Here is a sneak peak of one of the scenes: Read the rest of this entry »

Re: Staging

Preview image of file

by Emily Augsburger, Community Projects Coordinator

As we approach the end of October, the community projects department will begin our project for this exhibition:  Staging Reflections of the Buddha (Staging).  Before I began at the Pulitzer, I had heard about the project through the Brown School of Social Work, and I was completely inspired by the connection between social work and the arts. I am ecstatic to now be a part of the inner workings of this profound project.

For the past few months, we have been busily working with our amazing Staging team as we recruit actors and strategize the epic adventure ahead. Next Friday, we will hold our first workshop with the Staging actors. Agnes Wilcox will lead the process, and our team will work for the next seventeen weeks on the creation of the final performances. I am ecstatic that I am able to bear witness to and participate in the powerful transformation of the human spirit that comes from a project like Staging.  I look forward to keeping you posted on the Staging process as we progress. Cheers!

‘Staging Reflections of the Buddha’

Staging Old Masters, 2009, Ideal (Dis-) Placements: Old Masters at the Pulitzer.

by Lisa Harper Chang, Community Projects Director

Once in a great while, we are fortunate enough to have professional experiences that are revelatory and make profound impact on our hearts, as well. I was fortunate enough to have one of these experiences with our 2009 project Staging Old Masters. The actors with whom we had the privilege and joy of working simultaneously put into question and answered what shape this collaboration between social work and arts could take.

It is with great hope, a healthy dose of intimidation, and endless excitement that I share with you the news that we will be offering Staging Reflections of the Buddha, a project inspired and informed by our previous Staging program and by the amazingly thoughtful exhibition curated so brilliantly by our senior curator, Francesca Herndon-Consagra. With this iteration of Staging, we will continue our work with Prison Performing Arts (PPA) and Employment Connection while expanding our partnerships to include St. Patrick Center. While all of our actors last time were new clients to our social service partners, we thought it would be both impactful for all involved and meaningful to integrate alumni from Staging Old Masters and PPA with new clients. All of our actors are in some state of transition–homelessness, formerly incarcerated, ex-military (combat and non-combat)–just at different stages of their journey. Their journeys unite with ours through theatre experiences amidst the art and through shared ritual in an exhibition-inspired lantern ceremony marking the end of the exhibition and commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Pulitzer.

Over the coming months we are thrilled to share with you the intimate details of the program. Please join us on this journey, as we explore how to unlock the creative potential in all of us.


Inside Dharma Takes Meditation to Missouri Prisons

Pencil drawing by James Kennedy, Farmington State Correctional Center. More artwork by prison inmates may be found at


Carol Corey has been a student of Zen Buddhism since 1999. She works with Inside Dharma, a Buddhist prison outreach organization that teaches meditation in Missouri prisons. Practitioners from Inside Dharma led a meditation workshop at the Pulitzer on October 8.  

by Carol Corey, Community Services Organizer, Inside Dharma

In 2003, I responded to a request from an inmate at Menard State Prison in Illinois who was looking for support in his efforts to practice Zen meditation. Scott was about 40 years old. He had been incarcerated in this maximum security prison since he was fourteen. I answered his letter, and we’ve been corresponding ever since. In 2005, one of Scott’s articles was published in Tricycle Magazine (a Buddhist publication), and later that year it appeared in Best Buddhist Writings of 2005. This essay provided a compelling account of the life-changing transformation Scott went through, which eventually led him to become a serious student of Soto Zen Buddhism.

Before long I began a correspondence with James, another inmate in the category known as juvenile life without parole or “JLWOP”. He practices Tibetan Buddhism and, in his letters and during three visits, has made it clear that these teachings were, and still are, a lifeline for him. At one point he began studying the Tibetan language in order to understand the original teachings. Read the rest of this entry »

Jonathan Harvey Invokes Spiritual World

David B. Olsen is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of English at Saint Louis University, where he teaches courses in writing and literature. He is a gallery assistant at the Pulitzer and the co-host of The Review Process, a local arts podcast.

by David B. Olsen, Gallery Assistant

Immersed in the familiar quiet of the Pulitzer, it’s sometimes less easy to lose oneself and drift than it is to develop a kind of sonar.  As a gallery assistant, for example, I have learned to recognize people by the speed of their strides or the force of their footfalls; although everyone is never equally visible, some little electric presence is still always stirring. The space of the building doesn’t echo exactly, so much as it resounds, and the light white noise of movements or murmurs floats through the galleries and collects in the corners. To hear it filled with music for the first time at Wednesday night’s concert challenged my relation to the space. It’s not like I was lost as much as transplanted; the simple shapes and contours of Tadao Ando’s architecture seemed to multiply and became many in the bouncing of sounds between them. Even in its most meditative moments, the music of Jonathan Harvey was expansive and alive, searching, active, and enveloping.

For the first performance of the St. Louis Symphony for Reflections of the Buddha, five works by the British composer Jonathan Harvey were chosen by Music Director David Robertson, who remarked that Harvey’s love of simple sounds and chords belied a dark, slumbering sense of annihilation in his music. In particular, Harvey’s integration of electronic music–reflected in two of the concert’s pieces–seemed to invoke the spiritual world of “ghosts and angels,” whose language was composed of sounds that we would not immediately recognize. And although the Buddha is often associated with a sense of serenity and bliss, there was a certain haunting quality to Harvey’s work that reminds us that to be spiritual is to dwell among spirits, to commune with a spectral world on the other side of our own. In the opening piece, for example– “Buddhist Song No. 1” (2003), featuring lyrics adapted from A Guide to the Boddhisattva’s Way of Life–the piano’s innocent, childlike arpeggios were interrupted by a few violent stabs on the high notes, as though to remind us of the impermanence of joy. The lyrics, sung by mezzo-soprano Debbie Lennon, also recalled the vagaries of life in an often unwelcome world: “Just as on a dark and cloudy night / A flash of lightening for a moment illuminates all, / So for the worldly, through the power of Buddha’s blessings, / A virtuous intention briefly occurs.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Excellent Raiments

Peter Henderson, Debby Lennon and Eric Gaston

Peter Henderson, Debby Lennon and Eric Gaston

by Eddie Silva, External Affairs and Publications Manager, St. Louis Symphony

“There’s a certain slant of light…” Emily Dickinson’s phrase comes to mind inside The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts on a late autumn afternoon. The light enters slyly through Tadao Ando’s sublime architecture, a play of radiance and shadow.

Appropriately enough, silent Buddhas stand sentinel in this light, at peace in the rage of the world.

Peter Henderson is at the keyboard, at the foot of the stairwell below Ellsworth Kelly’s Blue Black. He’s here to rehearse the second of Jonathan Harvey’s Buddhist Songs, which will be performed Wednesday evening as part of the Pulitzer and St. Louis Symphony’s collaborative concert series.

I know nothing about Jonathan Harvey. To know as much as I know you can Google his name. I know now, from listening to Henderson and mezzo-soprano Debby Lennon rehearse Buddhist Song No. 2, “With excellent raiments,” that he can make music that resonates through the body like shimmering water. Read the rest of this entry »

Meeting with Buddhism

by Sevda Safarova, Practicum Student in Social Work

As a graduate student from Azerbaijan at George Warren Brown School of Social Work, I was fortunate to get a practicum placement at the Pulitzer. Working for nearly six years in development programs both in Azerbaijan and internationally, I have always been passionate about using culture and arts as means of social change and The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts is an opportunity for which I had long been searching.

As an intern I got to participate in an Educators Tour by Francesca Herndon-Consagra and Sydney Norton on Saturday, September 17. Listening to stories from the Reflections of Buddha exhibition and touring the gallery made me think of my first meeting with Buddhism.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Poem and Personal Recap of Sound Waves

Philip Matthews is a 2011 graduate of the MFA program at Washington University in St. Louis and is this year’s Jr. Writer-in-Residence in the English department. He teaches poetry and creative non-fiction. He is also a gallery assistant at the Pulitzer.

by Philip Matthews, Gallery Assistant

Last Thursday, October 6, I had the pleasure of experiencing the first of a series of Sound Waves events, which will all respond to the current exhibition, Reflections of the Buddha. For this installment, DJ Tim Rakel pumped a variety of Indian and Indian-influenced music throughout the exhibition through a sound system installed in the grates in the floor. The effect was encompassing, and as a gallery assistant stationed in the main gallery over the course of three hours, I found myself considering the Buddhist concepts of impermanence and attachment.

According to Buddhist thought, everything is in a constant state of change. The Pulitzer building exemplifies this principle, as natural light shifts throughout the day throughout the galleries: in one moment, a shimmering reflection of the Watercourt on the ceiling; in one moment, a rod of light through the Buddha on a phyllite plate; in one moment, nightfall reveals the standing Buddha reflected in a window, alongside my own reflection. And Rakel’s musical selections enhanced this principle beautifully: moving from a recording of monks chanting a cappella in unison, to a shimmering of sitars and a woman’s microtonic pipes like I have never heard, to a percussive, upbeat dance fitting of a dakini. Throughout the event, I am struck by how the power of the artworks around me interact with the music and the building, and how those relationships evolve as time progresses. At any given moment, I am satisfied to be here, having the experience I am having. Is this something like samadhi?

But when I begin to become attached: for example, when I begin to miss the blocks of orange light which sunset cast on the wall, I begin to miss out on the current experience of night available to me, with its different beauties and significances. This, I feel, is the Buddha’s most useful teaching to my daily life, which is full of attachments: to loved ones, to routine, to self-image. Because nothing is permanent, my attachments dissatisfy me when the conditions of my life change: I am dissatisfied that the relationship I want to last must inevitably end; I am dissatisfied when my students are not as talkative as they were last week; I am dissatisfied that, at 24, I am still so much skinnier than other men. The Buddha: “…on the cessation of craving ceases attachment; on the cessation of attachment ceases becoming…” (Mitchell, Donald W. “The Teachings of the Buddha.” Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. 42. Print.)

Here is a creative response to the challenges and questions of intimacy, attachment and impermanence which the current exhibition at the Pulitzer has begun to raise for me. The first draft of this poem was written at Sound Waves on Thursday, October 6, in fragments, on the back of a receipt I had in my wallet at the time.

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