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The new 211,431-square-foot East Building opens on June 29. For the facade, architect David Chipperfield used dark panels of polished concrete mottled with Missouri river aggregate to contrast with the cream-colored limestone of Cass Gilbert’s Beaux-Arts building. The panels are so large, they had to be poured on-site and hung with cranes.
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A look through two galleries offers a glimpse of Chuck Close’s iconic 1970 portrait Keith, as well as a partial view of Richard Long’s Mississippi Circle, assembled from limestone gathered from the banks of the river for a solo exhibit at the museum in 1988. Also pictured is Lucio Fontana’s 1966 Black Landscape (Concetto Spaziale Nero). The skylights, housed in 698 white concrete coffers across 40,000 square feet of ceiling space, are as finely calibrated as a rocket ship—they flood the galleries with gorgeous natural light, but levels are monitored so the art isn’t light-damaged. The floor comprises 6-inch planks of quartersawn white oak.
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Chipperfield’s design, which strived to harmonize with the existing museum rather than overpower it, offers several points of visual connection with the old building. The next phase of the expansion focuses on outdoor features, including a sculpture garden and grounds designed by Paris-based landscape architect Michel Desvigne.
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With the addition of 82,452 square feet of gallery and common space, the museum can show works that haven’t been seen for 10 or even 20 years. Pictured are Jim Dine’s 1962 Flesh Bathroom with Yellow Light and Objects, Claes Oldenburg’s 1971 Ice Bag–Scale B, and Duane Hanson’s 1970 Playboy Bunny.
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In total, 277 works of art were installed in 21 new galleries in the East Wing, including pieces by Jackson Pollock, Ellsworth Kelly, Mark Rothko, Donald Judd, Julie Mehretu, Louise Nevelson, and St. Louis native Tom Friedman. In the Main Building, 1,550 pieces, including works in the Ancient American Art and European Art to 1800 collections, were reinstalled. The bridge between the two is a small gallery featuring works from antiquity. Pictured are Barrett Newman’s 1967 White and Hot and Anne Truitt’s 1968 Morning Choice.
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From the front entrance, Gerhard Richter’s 1986 Ölberg is visible at the end of the hall in the Special Exhibition Galleries (all temporary shows are now in the East Wing). The painting is part of the inaugural show, “Postwar German Art From the Collection,” which also includes work by Joseph Beuys, Sigmar Polke, and Anselm Kiefer. The reception desk faces the gift shop; to its right is the museum’s new restaurant, which seats 100.
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A gallery dedicated to Minimalist work offers a view through mechanized shades to the Main Building. The black L-shaped sculpture is Tony Smith’s Free Ride (modeled in 1962, fabricated in 1968), inspired by astronaut Scott Carpenter’s orbit in the Aurora 7 spacecraft and originally mocked up with Alka-Seltzer boxes.
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Gerhard Richter’s large-scale 1989 triptych January, December, November, inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall, was executed not with brushes, but with squeegees. It’s part of the postwar German art exhibit, sharing a room with Anselm Kiefer’s Burning Rods (1984–87) and another large-scale Richter triptych, Gray Mirror (1991).
By Stefene Russell. Photography by Alise O'Brien.
A preview of Saint Louis Art Museum's breathtaking new building