The Kemper Museum of Contemporary
Art opened October 2, 1994. At the core of the permanent collection is
the Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection, a gift by the Museum’s donors
R. Crosby Kemper and his wife Bebe Kemper, and the Kemper Foundations.
The collection includes works by such artists as Louise Bourgeois, Christian
Boltanski, Manuel Neri, Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella,
Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Hung Liu, Robert
Motherwell, Deborah Butterfield, Fairfield Porter, Wayne Thiebaud, Grace
Hartigan, William Wegman, Red Grooms, Georgia O’Keeffe, Christopher
Brown, Willem de Kooning, and Robert Mapplethorpe.
Funding for the Museum was provided
by R. Crosby Kemper, then Chairman & CEO of UMB Financial Corporation,
formerly United Missouri Bancshares, Inc.; the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation;
the R. C. Kemper Charitable Trust & Foundation; the R. C. Kemper, Jr.
Charitable Trust & Foundation; and the William T. Kemper Foundation,
UMB Bank, n.a., Trustee. The Kemper Museum was formally incorporated as
an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit museum with an independent board of trustees
on September 13, 1995.
Each year, the Museum presents 10–12
special exhibitions in its galleries. The group and solo artist exhibitions
feature established and emerging artists from the United States and around
the world. Past special exhibitions have included works by Alex Katz, Liza
Lou, Christian Boltanski, Kojo Griffin, Alison Saar, and Fairfield Porter,
among many others. Lectures, film and video series, performances, and workshops
are offered on a regular basis in the Museum’s meeting room, which
seats 88 people.
About the Building
Gunnar Birkerts designed the Kemper Museum’s signature building.
Construction began October 2, 1992, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary
Art opened October 2, 1994.
A large atrium, central to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, culminates
in an articulated skylight 22 feet high. Extended from either side of
the atrium are two wings. Overall, the Kemper Museum measures more than
23,200 gross square feet. The main gallery, measuring 5,697 square feet,
features selections from the permanent collection and is used for changing
exhibitions. Smaller galleries feature rotating exhibitions, and a meeting
room offers works on paper and other glazed works from the permanent collection.
Works of art are always on view in the atrium and the corridors of each
In addition to gallery spaces, the Museum houses an A/V-equipped meeting
room, an indoor courtyard, a café, and a museum shop.
About the Architect
Gunnar Birkerts founded Gunnar Birkerts
and Associates in 1963 and has since established a reputation as one of
the country's foremost modernist architects. His many projects include
museums, corporate headquarters, and government buildings for clients
in the United States, Europe, and South America.
Born in Riga, Latvia, Birkerts trained in Germany and began his professional
career in the office of the visionary modernist Eero Saarinen. Sharing
Saarinen's affection for expressive forms, Birkerts is noted for architectural
designs that are highly evocative and that emphasize the dynamic flow
and illumination of space.
Birkerts has completed a number of major museum projects, including the
Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York; the Contemporary Arts Museum
in Houston; and the South Wing addition to the Detroit Institute of Art.
Other major commissions include the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis;
the headquarters for Domino's Pizza in Ann Arbor, Michigan; the United
States Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela; and three projects in Italy: a sports
center in Venice; a housing complex in Milan; and Novoli, a multi-use
center in Florence.
Birkerts served on the faculty of the University of Michigan College of
Architecture and Design for more than 30 years, and has also taught at
the University of Illinois and the University of Oklahoma. He is a fellow
of the American Institute of Architects and has received the Brunner Memorial
Prize in Architecture, given by the American Academy and Institute of
Arts and Letters.
The dynamic building form is expressive of the constant progression of
modern art. It presents the distinct personality of the museum while using
an informal vocabulary that is not related to any architectural historical
style, yet is expressive and accommodating.
The free-flowing interior space unfolds as it progresses. It is not compartmented,
but allows flexible transitions from one space to the next, from one gallery
to the next, and to the Grand Atrium. A continuous ribbon of daylight
provides for continuity and direction within the museum and a connection
to the outside. The weaving of nature into the building form further establishes
a visual dialogue within the context and a space for outdoor exhibitions.
The building represents its own and unprecedented image. It is not a style
to be emulated, but a standard for design quality and responsiveness.