The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, named for the late Mildred Lane Kemper in 2004, is a treasure of Washington University in St. Louis. One of the oldest teaching museums in the country, the Kemper Art Museum has a long legacy of acquiring leading contemporary art and presenting cutting-edge exhibitions.
In 2010, the William T. Kemper Foundation strengthened this legacy by endowing the position of the Kemper Art Museum director, held by director and chief curator Sabine Eckmann. Now, to help secure the museum’s future, the foundation has pledged $5 million to fund long-range capital needs, including a major expansion.
“Artists learn by looking, and seeing great works of art in person, seeing great works of art up close, is more important today than ever,” said Carmon Colangelo, the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Collaboration in the Arts and dean of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, which includes the Kemper Art Museum.
“This generous support will enable us to regularly exhibit more of our outstanding permanent collection while continuing to showcase some of today’s leading contemporary artists,” Colangelo said. “My immense thanks go out to the Kemper family for their shared recognition that a university museum represents a unique opportunity to educate and to provoke conversation.”
The Kemper family, both through the foundation and as individuals, has supported Washington University for decades, in areas as diverse as scholarships, the Pre-College Program for underserved youth, and neurological research.
“We love Washington University because it’s an institution that values excellence, both in education and in research,” said David W. Kemper, a Life Trustee, vice chair of the Board of Trustees, and the chairman and chief executive officer of Commerce Bancshares Inc. “I consider it the most important institution in St. Louis, and it’s one of the world’s greatest universities.”
Said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton: “With strong leadership and extraordinary generosity from friends like David Kemper, the Kemper family, and the William T. Kemper Foundation, Washington University can achieve great things. This significant commitment will further the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum’s mission to advance scholarship and the study and appreciation of visual art in an unparalleled environment.”
The Kemper Art Museum has benefited significantly from the generosity of the Kemper family and foundations. They have provided the museum with ongoing financial support and made substantial contributions for acquisitions. James M. Kemper Jr., David Kemper’s father, has helped to support numerous exhibitions and has enhanced the museum’s collection with one of the largest single donations for acquisitions, given for the purchase of contemporary German art.
“The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum boasts an internationally recognized modern and contemporary art collection,” said Eckmann, an authority on modern and contemporary German art. “The tradition of collecting, researching and exhibiting works by contemporary artists continues today thanks in no small part to the Kemper family, who have enabled museum-goers to experience important works by rising and established artists. We are profoundly grateful for their generosity.”
David Kemper believes the Kemper Art Museum plays a unique role not only as a venue for special exhibitions and permanent works, but also as a place to express ideas. “A university needs to have a space where people can see art and talk about it,” he said. “An art museum generates ideas and interaction — and inspiring ideas and conversation is behind everything we do on this campus.”
In addition to providing much-needed space for artwork, the renovation — which comes as part of a larger transformation of the east end of the Danforth Campus — will relocate the building’s entrance to open onto the university’s front lawn. “I’m excited to see the museum become an integral part of the university’s east entrance,” David Kemper said.
Museum visitors will enter an inviting, light-filled entry with views of Brookings Hall. The new, spacious gallery will be named in honor of David Kemper’s sister, the late Laura Kemper Fields, who had a lifelong passion for the visual arts. During her career at Commerce Bank, Fields oversaw the bank’s significant, post-war American art collection. She also served on the board of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.
“Our sister Laura had a great eye and a great sense for art,” said Julie Kemper Foyer, a member of the Sam Fox School National Council. “I know she would be pleased to be connected to the museum that is named for our mother. We are all very proud to be associated with Washington University.”