© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Artist’s show tackles St. Louis, LA, and a book too ‘obscene’ to be given an award

Drew Heitzler's Gravity's Rainbow
Provided by Amy Granat
Drew Heitzler's Gravity's Rainbow

Drew Heitzler’s latest work examines the intersection between St. Louis, Los Angeles, and a book that momentarily broke the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. 

Heitzler's show is the current exhibit at Parapet/RealHumans, a gallery space in the Fox Park neighborhood. It draws attention to a moment in 1974 when the Pulitzer Prize for fiction wasn’t awarded. 

The jury selected a book now frequently listed as one of the best novels of all time: Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The board found the book offensive and rejected the jury’s pick outright.

Heitzler’s exhibit displays eight paintings depicting covers from various publications of the book. The Los Angeles connection comes from Heitzler and the book’s knotty narrative, which takes place in Europe and Los Angeles and tracks the production of V-2 rockets at the end of World War II. The St. Louis connection is in the Pulitzers themselves. Though the awards are administered by Columbia University, Joseph Pulitzer made the fortune that backs the prizes in St. Louis, where he was the owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Most of my work revolves around Southern California, so when I go elsewhere I try to find a way to sort of fly back to LA. And this was sort of the best way to do that because the Pulitzer Foundation is here,” Heitzler said.

1974 is one of 11 years in which the prize for fiction wasn’t handed out since the the Pulitzers were first awarded in 1917, but the board’s refusal to accept the nomination for obscenity is unique. The charge of indecency contrasts with the Heitzler's prosaic images.

“The paintings are sort of setting up this Barnes & Noble feel, you know when you go to Barnes & Noble and there’s like all those weird stretched book cover things,” Heitzler said.

These images formed the backdrop for a presentation and “artist’s talk” given the show’s opening night. Local actress Ann Marie Mohr worked with Heizlter to craft a performance in which she gave a talk as though she were the artist.

Ann Marie Mohr gives artist's talk as Drew Heitzler. Gravity's Rainbow
Credit Provided by Amy Granat
Ann Marie Mohr gives an artist's talk as Drew Heitzler.

The project fits in well with Parapet/RealHumans’s general mission. Each individual show is dedicated to presenting one work of art, which may appear in various pieces or as a series, by one artist. They are required to host an artists’ talk in order to show in the gallery. 

Parapet/RealHumans opened in September 2014. The space is run by artist Amy Granat who’s shown work internationally and participated in the Whitney Biennial, one of the country’s leading art shows.

Granat was born in St. Louis but lived outside the city for 20 years. When she returned, she quickly found herself at Free Paarking in Fox Park.

“I immediately fell in love with the room,” said Granat, who took over the space when Free Paarking closed, excited to reinvest in the community where she was born.  “Getting reintroduced to St. Louis after being gone for 20 years, it’s fascinating.”

Granat is invested in continuing to use her art world connections to bring a wider array of artists to the city to show individual works and provide talks.

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.