The East Building of The Saint Louis Art Museum, designed by Sir David Chipperfield, world class architect, has been open for only a month and the crowds are still overwhelming the staff, volunteers ,and particularly the docents who have been training harder than ever to give exciting and informative tours of not only the new building, but the beautiful reinstalled galleries of the Cass Gilbert West Building.
What a thrill it is to see many of my old favorite paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings and other works of art that haven't been on display in years, some over twenty years. Finally we have more space. Actually there is more than 200,000 square feet in the East Building which improves the visitor experience through the extensive new galleries. There are 21 new galleries in the new building displaying over 230 works of art. The main building with the rest of the collection has 68 galleries that have been reinstalled with 1450 works of art on display.
Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art and Tricia Paik, assistant curator of modern and contemporary art, can finally rest assured that their endless years of planning on how to best install works in the new building has really come to fruition in the new glorious space. In an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch written by Diane Toroian Keaggy, Simon Kelly says, "These pieces need space, that's the bottom line," and Tricia Paik says, "When I was first told we would have these 16 foot ceilings, I was excited that there would be this sense of modern grandeur.” In the words of Robert Duffy ,associate editor of the St. Louis Beacon, the Chipperfield building features arrangements of space conceived to make art manifest, shown not only to its best advantage but also appropriately and respectfully.
And finally we have parking. The East Building is served by a fully-accessible entrance on Fine arts Drive, and offers expanded visitor amenities, including restrooms, coat check, and Information Center. A new Concourse will connect the Main and South buildings to both the East Building and to the new parking garage. The new 300 space underground garage will be open during museum hours at a fee comparable to that charged by its neighbor, The Zoo.
And wow, if you haven't seen the new Panorama Restaurant, you need to dine and feast your eyes on the elegant setting with views of Forest Park. Located on level 1 is the Café which serves more casual fare.
Carmon Collangelo, Dean of The Sam Fox School of Art and Design says, "The expansion to the Saint Louis Art Museum will be a tremendous boom, adding enormous depth and renewed vitality to the arts in St. Louis," and Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, Director of The Sheldon Art Galleries says, "St. Louis's visual arts resources have already been an important part of what makes St. Louis a great place to live, but the opening of the Art Museum's new building cements our position in the Midwest. Of course, the art museum and our community must give the biggest salute and kudos to Brent Benjamin, director of The Saint Louis Art Museum for his many years of work with the many generous donors to make this great new addition to the museum a reality. A gallery has been named in Mr. Benjamin's honor.
In the same article in the Post Dispatch mentioned earlier, writer Diane Keaggy talked of the press and public relations campaign to make St. Louis known as the Midwest's cultural city. All sorts of attention was given to our new bright and shining addition by writers of prestigious magazines such as Art in America and Architectural Digest. New York writer Hillarie Sheets, writer for Art in America, talks of her surprise when on assignment in St. Louis. She says, "Being a New Yorker, there is a certain chauvinism we may have about the heartland so at times my colleagues and I might be surprised when we hear someone from MOMA would take job in St. Louis, but it's happening here. There really does seem to be a critical mass in St. Louis.
Clearly the art buzz is in the air and I think we are much more than a Midwestern cultural center. I think we are the nation's most culturally rich arts center per capita and The Saint Louis Art Museum is certainly a leader in proving it.
Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years on numerous arts related boards.