$5 million gift establishes Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum as centerpiece of Maki-designed Sam Fox Arts Center; groundbreaking set for April 14

The first art museum west of the Mississippi River is getting a new name and a new, state-of-the-art building designed by one of the world’s premier architects, thanks to a $5 million gift from one of Missouri’s most distinguished families, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton announced today.

Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and Dula Foundation Central Courtyard

On Wednesday, April 14, Washington University in St. Louis will break ground on the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, formerly the Washington University Gallery of Art. The 65,000-square-foot limestone-clad structure — dedicated in honor of the late Mildred Lane Kemper — is one of two new buildings designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki as part of the $56.8 million Sam Fox Arts Center.

Maki, who taught at Washington University’s School of Architecture from 1956 to 1963, was recently selected to design the new United Nations building in New York and to work on one of five office towers at the former World Trade Center site. The Sam Fox Arts Center is only his third project to break ground in the United States.

“This is truly a dramatic moment,” Wrighton said. “The Washington University art collection is among the finest in the nation and is a major resource for students, faculty and the general public. Mr. Maki has designed a world-class facility that will enable us, for the first time in a century, to place works from that collection on permanent, year-round display. We are deeply indebted to the Kemper family, both for their leadership and for their dedication to the arts in St. Louis.”

The $5 million gift includes $1 million from Mildred’s husband, James M. Kemper Jr., chairman emeritus of Commerce Bancshares Inc.; and $1 million from their son, David W. Kemper, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Commerce Bancshares and vice chairman of Washington University’s Board of Trustees, and his wife, Dotty Kemper. An additional $3 million is provided by the William T. Kemper Foundation, which was established in 1989 after the death of James’ uncle, William T. Kemper.

Mildred Lane Kemper
Mildred Lane Kemper

Mildred Lane Kemper graduated from Wellesley College and was a lifelong resident of Kansas City, Mo. She was a trustee of Wellesley College for many years and had a lifelong interest in higher education. The Mildred Lane Kemper Chair in Art History at Wellesley is currently held by Lilian Armstrong.

“Our family and foundation are delighted to honor my mother by naming the new art museum at Washington University,” David Kemper said. “She would be very pleased that this beautiful building will be both a place to display great art and a gathering spot for the University and the St. Louis community.”

The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is centerpiece of the five-building Sam Fox Arts Center, which also includes Steinberg Hall, Maki’s first commission and current home to the Gallery of Art; Bixby and Givens halls, the recently renovated, Beaux Arts-era homes to the schools of Art and Architecture, respectively; and the new, Maki-designed Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Hall, 38,000-square-foot studio facility replacing the School of Art’s off-campus Lewis Center.

The Kemper Art Museum will house more than 10,000 square feet of exhibition space, as well as offices and storage facilities. The building also includes an outdoor sculpture garden; a gallery for use by faculty and students; the 3,000-square-foot Newman Money Museum; offices and classrooms for the Department of Art History & Archaeology in Arts & Sciences; and the 13,000-square-foot Kenneth and Nancy Kranzberg Information Center.

“We are literally transforming the traditional approach to studying the visual arts,” noted Mark S. Weil, Ph.D., the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts and director of both the Kemper Art Museum and the Sam Fox Arts Center. “For the first time in our history, students and faculty from across the university’s visual arts and design programs will be able to work alongside one another in a single, central location.”

Saligman Family Atrium
Saligman Family Atrium, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Sam Fox Arts Center

Construction of both the Kemper Art Museum and Walker Hall will begin immediately following Commencement, which takes place May 21, and is scheduled to last 18-24 months. New facilities will open in spring 2006. To date, the university has accumulated resources totaling $53.4 million in gifts, commitments and allocations, leaving $3.4 million to be raised.

The Washington University art collection was founded in 1881 as part of the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts. Beginning in 1906, the collection was housed largely at the Saint Louis Art Museum, but returned to campus with the opening of Steinberg Hall in 1960.

Today, the collection encompasses some 3,000 objects. The strongest areas are in 19th- and 20th- century European and American art, including a substantial modern collection built in the mid-1940s by famed art historian H.W. Janson. Other major holdings include two Egyptian mummies, several Greek vases and the Wulfing Collection of approximately 14,000 Greek, Roman and Byzantine coins, as well as a large number of prints, drawings and photographs.

The William T. Kemper Foundation is dedicated to continuing William Kemper’s lifelong interest in improving the human condition and quality of life. The foundation supports Midwest communities and concentrates on initiatives in education, health and human services, civic improvements and the arts.