Over the last 125 years, Washington University has built one of the nation’s finest university art collections by focusing primarily on the acquisition and display of contemporary work. On Oct. 25, the university will dedicate its new Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, a dramatic, light-filled structure designed to showcase the renowned permanent collection as well as a vibrant program of temporary exhibitions.
The Kemper Art Museum will open with three special exhibitions, all of which remain on view through Dec. 31:
• [Grid<>Matrix], the first installment in the series “Screen Arts and New Media Aesthetics.”
• Models and Prototypes, the inaugural show in the “Focus” series, which explores works from the collection in new interpretive contexts.
• Pure Invention: Tom Friedman, featuring work by the acclaimed sculptor and Washington University alumnus.
Also opening Oct. 25 will be Modernity and Self, an installation of the museum’s permanent collection in the Bernoudy Permanent Collection Gallery. Focusing on the genres of Landscape, Portraiture, Abstraction and artworks that engage the Everyday, the installation traces the ways in which modern and contemporary artists have addressed shifting notions of subjectivity and self. In particular, Modernity and Self traces how artists – in the face of radical social, political, economic, and technological changes – have developed new concepts of artistic identity while negotiating the relationship between subject and external world in new and salient ways.
Each of the four sections highlights a considerable range of strategies and interpretations. Landscape painting — which gained popularity as a mode of artistic investigation during the 19th century — can imply a civilizing or domesticating of the natural world, as in George Caleb Bingham’s Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap (1851-52). Yet it also can reflect the promise of new technologies, as in Lyonel Feininger’s Brücke I (Bridge I) (1913), or convey modernity’s unsettling effects, as in Chaim Soutine’s Landscape with Church Tower (Saint-Pierre’s Church in Céret) (1919).
Abstraction, a celebrated invention of the early twentieth century, has been perceived as the epitome of originality and creative subjectivity, for instance in the work of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. It can also be perceived, however, as the complete loss thereof, through quasi-automatic painting procedures or the use of rigid geometric structures, as in the work of Josef Albers.
Questions of identity and representation have been especially pressing in portraiture. Modernity and Self includes a number of fundamentally differing approaches, from Thomas Eakins’ Portrait of Professor W.D. Marks (1886) — which reflects a positivist belief in the construction of knowledge based on verifiable information gained from the natural world — to more, probing, distorting, and fragmentary renderings of the human subject by Max Beckmann, Philip Guston and Jean Dubuffet.
Modernity’s cacophonous sense of fragmentation can be seen to mediate the everyday in works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Juan Gris. At the same time, many artists bridge the gap between art and life by enlisting nontraditional materials. Robert Rauschenberg’s Choke (1964) combines painted passages with silkscreened commercial imagery. John Chamberlain’s Hanging Herm (1974) is constructed entirely from demolished car parts.
In addition to Modernity and Self, the Kemper Art Museum will feature contemporary photography as well as several new acquisitions in the Saligman Family Atrium. Works include Louise Lawler’s Not Yet Titled (2004-5), Michel Majerus’ monumental canvas MM6 (2001) and Olafur Eliasson’s Your Imploded View (2001), a highly-polished, 600-pound aluminum sphere that reflects and distorts its surroundings. The 5,000-square-foot Florence Steinberg Weil Sculpture Plaza will showcase a new site-specific installation by Chicago artist Dan Peterman, Alexander Calder’s large Five Rudders (1964) and other signature pieces.
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki, the Kemper Art Museum is both centerpiece and public face of Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. The five-building, $56.8 million complex also features Maki’s new Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Hall, which will house studios and workshops for art students and faculty; Bixby and Givens halls, a pair of recently renovated the Beaux Arts-era buildings; and Steinberg Hall, Maki’s very first commission and longtime home to the university art collection.
The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum will open with three inaugural exhibitions as well as an installation of the permanent collection on Oct. 25. A dedication ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. with exhibitions opening from 4:30 to 8 p.m. All exhibitions are free and open to the public. Special exhibitions will remain on view through Dec. 31. The Kemper Art Museum is located near the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth boulevards. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The museum is closed Tuesdays.
For more information, call (314) 935-4523 or visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu
WHO: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
WHAT: Modernity and Self, an installation of the permanent collection.
WHEN: Opening 4:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25.
WHERE: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, near the intersection of Forsyth and Skinker boulevards.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Closed Tuesdays.
COST: Free and open to the public.
INFORMATION: (314) 935-4523 or visit kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu