The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, named for the late Mildred Lane Kemper in 2004, is a Washington University treasure. One of the oldest teaching museums in the country, the Kemper 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 Museum director, held by chief curator Sabine Eckmann. Now, to secure the museum’s future, the foundation has pledged $5 million to fund the museum’s long-range capital needs, including an upcoming renovation and expansion.
Through the foundation and as individuals, the Kemper family 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,” says 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.”
Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton says, “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 Museum often has benefited from the family’s generosity. James M. Kemper Jr., Mr. Kemper’s father, has enhanced the museum’s collection with gifts of contemporary German art and has helped support several exhibitions. David Kemper believes the Kemper Art Museum plays a unique role not only as a venue for special exhibits 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,” Mr. Kemper says. “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 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,” Mr. Kemper says.
Museum visitors will enter an inviting, light-filled entry with views of Brookings Hall. The new, spacious gallery will be named in honor of Mr. Kemper’s sister, the late Laura Kemper Fields, who had a lifelong passion for the visual arts. During her career at Commerce Bank, Ms. 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, Missouri.
“Our sister Laura had a great eye and a great sense for art,” says Julie Kemper, a member of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts National Council. “I know she would be proud to be connected to the museum, and we are all proud to include her in a museum named for our mother. We’re also very proud to be associated with Washington University.”
Learn more about the Kemper expansion and the east end transformation.