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Saint Louis Art Museum opens new East Building designed by Sir David Chipperfield
The north facade of the new East Building at dusk. Image courtesy of the Saint Louis Art Museum. Photo: Alise O'Brien.

ST. LOUIS, MO.- The Saint Louis Art Museum opened its new East Building to the public on Saturday, June 29, 2013, presenting its distinguished encyclopedic collection in a new light and featuring a weekend of celebratory events to thank the community for its support. Consistent with the inscription carved in stone above the Main Entrance – “Dedicated to Art and Free to All” – all grand opening events are presented without charge.

“Great cities are characterized by their quality of life, and the Saint Louis Art Museum is fundamental to the cultural vibrancy of St. Louis,” said Barbara Taylor, President of the Museum’s Board of Commissioners. “This expansion project has raised our collective bar.”

Designed by David Chipperfield Architects with technical assistance from St. Louis-based HOK, the East Building increases gallery and public space by 30 percent with 21 new galleries for the collection and temporary exhibitions. The inaugural exhibitions in the East Building feature some 230 works from the Museum’s extensive holdings of postwar German art and American art. Twenty-five percent of the works have not been on view for at least 20 years. The expansion project has also enabled the renovation and reinstallation of the Museum’s iconic 1904 Main Building designed by Cass Gilbert. More than 1,450 works of art have been reinstalled in 68 galleries; approximately one-third of these works have not been on view for at least 20 years. Another highlight of the opening celebration is the unveiling of Stone Sea, a new site-specific sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy that symbolically bridges the past and future of the Museum.

“We are delighted to invite the St. Louis community – and the world – to visit the Saint Louis Art Museum, to experience the new East Building, and to rediscover our comprehensive collection in every gallery of the Museum,” said Brent R. Benjamin, director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “The Museum has long been regarded as one of our nation’s leading civic visual art institutions and we are honored to continue this legacy as we enter a new era.”

East Building Design
David Chipperfield’s design for the more than 200,000-square-foot East Building presents a contemporary counterpart to the Museum’s neo-classical 1904 Main Building. Awarded LEED Gold status by the U.S. Green Building Council, the design organically links the two buildings, and a new Grand Stair provides a seamless transition between the main and the lower-level galleries and visitor amenities. Museum visitors may use the fully accessible new entrance to the East Building or the existing Sculpture Hall entrance to the Main Building, where the original floor plan has been restored as part of the expansion project.

The fašade of the East Building features floor-to-ceiling windows and 23 monumental panels of dark polished concrete, with highlights of Missouri river aggregates. Inside the galleries, innovative coffered ceilings made of light concrete provide abundant but controlled natural light, supplemented with artificial illumination which is managed by a computerized sensor system that automatically adjusts to changing light levels throughout the day. Wide-plank white oak floors and stainless steel floor vents are designed to provide a distraction-free setting for the works of art.

East Building – Special Exhibitions
In the East Building, the inaugural installation in the new main exhibition galleries is Postwar German Art in the Collection, an extensive re-examination of a major aspect of the Museum’s holdings. Curated by Tricia Y. Paik, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art, the exhibition addresses themes and groupings such as the legacy of Joseph Beuys; the large-scale works of Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer; and the influence of the DŘsseldorf School of Photography. Drawing from the Museum’s notable strengths in painting, sculpture, drawings and photography, these galleries also feature works by Georg Baselitz, J÷rg Immendorff, Martin Kippenberger, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Andreas Gursky and Candida H÷fer.

Among the highlights of the postwar German art installation are Gerhard Richter’s Betty (1988), a portrait of the artist’s daughter, which greets visitors at the start of the exhibition; Richter’s series of three abstract diptychs January, December and November (all 1989), which command another gallery with their monumental power; Joseph Beuys’ iconic Felt Suit (1970), one of his most famous “multiples”; Sigmar Polke’s Why Can’t I Stop Smoking? (1964), a work infused with deadpan humor; and Andreas Gursky’s large-format photograph Library (1999), which depicts the central lending hall of the Asplund Public Library in Stockholm in painstaking detail.

The collection galleries in the East Building feature an inaugural installation exploring developments in postwar American art, curated by Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art, and Paik. The installation includes works from the Museum’s collection by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Anne Truitt, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd and Richard Serra, as well as more recent work by Kiki Smith, Kerry James Marshall, Leonardo Drew, Teresita Fernandez, and Julie Mehretu.

Highlights of postwar American art on display in the East Building include Chuck Close’s Keith (1970), a hyper-realistic portrait of colossal scale, painted in shades of gray; Richard Serra’s Untitled (1968), a painted rubber sculpture from the brief period when the artist worked in that medium; and Julie Mehretu’s dynamic Grey Space (distractor) (2006), featuring brightly colored geometric forms floating in a vast space. Louise Nevelson’s classic white assemblage sculpture New Continent (1962) faces Leonardo Drew’s Untitled #45 (1995), a large-scale installation of 300 wooden panels covering an entire wall from floor to ceiling, with Richard Long’s Mississippi Circle (1988), composed of river rocks, installed on the floor between them.

Outside, Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone Sea, commissioned by the Museum, features 25 10-foot stone arches, each weighing approximately 13 tons, constructed of limestone sourced from the Earthworks Quarry in Perryville, Missouri. Arranged in a dense composition in a lower-level courtyard between the East and Main Buildings, the new work evokes the texture and movement of the ancient shallow seas that once covered the Midwest.

Main Building – Permanent Collection Reinstallation
All aspects of the Museum’s encyclopedic collections, which span some 5,000 years, are celebrated at the opening. Among the reinstalled galleries are new presentations of Native American and Ancient American Art, African Art, Korean Art, Islamic Art, and a sequence of galleries for European painting and sculpture spanning from the Renaissance to the mid-20th century.

Notable reinstallations in the Main Building include the galleries for 18th century European art, with works by Canaletto, Tiepolo, Chardin, Reynolds and Gainsborough presented within the context of the Grand Tour; the French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist galleries, with works by masters from Manet, Monet and Renoir through van Gogh and Gauguin installed thematically; and a dedicated gallery to house the Museum’s collection of work by Max Beckmann, the largest of its kind in the world.

The Main Building also houses galleries which examine Surrealism as reflected in the work of Giorgio di Chirico and Max Ernst, and the abstract approaches evident in works by Paul Klee, Roberto Matta, Pablo Picasso, Joan Mirˇ and Alberto Giacometti; the pivotal role of Piet Mondrian in European abstraction; and the importance of urban imagery in the work of artists including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Amedeo Modigliani and Robert Delaunay.

Galleries for Ancient American Art present some 300 works from the ancient cultures of the Western Hemisphere. Constituting the first reconfiguration since 1981 of the Museum’s esteemed collection of ancient American art, the installation includes works from the Inca and Moche of South America, the Maya and Aztec of Mexico and the Mississippian cultures of the Midwest.

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July 1, 2013

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