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Pulitzer Arts Foundation’s ‘Assembly Required’ has visitors step into, and onto, art

Lygia Clark’s “Diálogo: Oculos,” or "Dialogue: Goggles," was created in 1968.
Brita d’Agostino
Lygia Clark’s “Diálogo: Oculos,” or "Dialogue: Goggles," was created in 1968.

The Pulitzer Arts Foundation's upcoming exhibition “Assembly Required” asks more of onlookers than passive viewing. Each piece has an interactive component. Curators invite visitors to stack objects, cut paper, and step into — and even onto — the exhibits.

“How often are you asked to show up to a museum and walk on a work of art?” asked Curatorial Associate Heather Alexis Smith. But Yoko Ono’s “Painting to Be Stepped On (#1)” invites visitors to do just that.

The pieces in the show focus on social and political moments, from unrest in the U.S. during the Vietnam War to Peru’s military dictatorship. In that way, they reflect the dual meaning of the show’s title. For these pieces, it’s not only that assembly is required. It’s that, in our history, assembly — public assembly — is often required as well.

Lygia Pape's "Divisor" performed at Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro in 2010.
Lygia Pape
Lygia Pape's "Divisor" performed at Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro in 2010.

Some pieces emphasize the beauty and power in coming together for a cause, like Brazilian artist Lygia Pape’s performance piece “Divisor,” which was first showcased at the Río de Janeiro Museu de Arte Moderna in 1968.

“The military tribunal that ruled Brazil at the time essentially suspended the ability of people to gather together in public,” Smith explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. In response, Pape took a huge sheet and cut holes in it. “And she invited a group of schoolchildren to get inside the sheet, so their heads were kind of peeping out, and then they were able to march and parade through the streets.”

Smith continued, “While you may see this group of kids playing and interacting and having a ball out there in the street, it also has this really subversive undercurrent, that kind of pushes back against that military dictatorship.”

Listen to St. Louis on the Air discuss "Assembly Required"

The works span a period from the 1950s to today and often reference current events. But, Smith said, they are “open-ended” in striking ways. “So depending on what we're experiencing in the present day, we may be able to derive completely new meaning in many of these works.”

Smith noted that the exhibition includes a residency by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera and INSTAR, an artist collective organized by pro-democracy Cuban activists.

This spring and summer, the Pulitzer will host a series of talks between INSTAR and St. Louis creatives — “as a way to form links between St. Louis and the Cuban community.” The museum will also livestream a dialogue series as part of INSTAR’s work with Documenta, an international survey of contemporary art hosted every five years in Europe.

Related Event
What: Opening Reception for Assembly Required
When: 5 p.m. March 4 (The exhibition is on display through July 31.)
Where: Pulitzer Arts Foundation (3716 Washington Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.