East End Adventures: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum

The new east end is a vision. Large open spaces and walls that seems as though they are constructed of nothing other than glass. The fountains are lit at night and, when it’s warm, have become a beautiful spot to have a night time chat with a tea from Park Side. In my mind, the artistic crowned jewel of the new east end is the recently reopened Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.

Before the Kemper closed, I spent time in Garen Gallery studying models, historic images, aerial views, and time lapses showing the history, present and future of the east end of campus. Projections of what was to come mixed with maps of the past. Even after the Kemper closed, as a Sam Fox student who lived in the lofts, I frequently passed the huge mockup posters of the plans for the East End which were plastered along Skinker.

My first time back in the Kemper was the day following the formal opening celebration events. The new entrance is an expansive atrium with large windows and stained glass geometric artwork that hangs from the ceiling. They have a new welcome desk covered with air plants intertwined with golden geometric forms. The check-in stickers are now little black circles that say the name of the museum, replacing the previous catch phrase “think art today.”

The old structure of the museum is definitely still present. The “Your Imploded View” Eliasson ball in the atrium still hangs ready to be pushed on request. The Ebsworth and Garen Galleries are where the Ai Weiwei Exhibition is on display. Figuring that I would spend a good deal of time observing and writing about the Ai Weiwei galleries through my classes so, alternatively, I went off to explore the permanent collection galleries.

Kemper is the newest permanent collection gallery. Some of the paintings that hung in the old PC have been moved downstairs to join pieces that I knew only from private study sessions. The gallery is divided into three sections displaying modern artworks from the collection. Each section has its own collection of names recognizable from the Intro to Modern Art History class. The first section contains a dreamy Pollock, the second features a bold Rauschenberg and the bewildering film: Semiotics of the Kitchen, and the third section integrates photography mirrors, politics and my favorite piece, a large piece of floorboard covered in wax and soap by Rashid Johnson. The curation of this gallery is textured, large, and vibrant.

Feeling satisfied with this visit to Kemper gallery, I move upstairs to Bernoudy, the former “PC”. Here they have taken down the two interior rooms that were built to display the contemporary work and, instead, divided the gallery into four sections. A walk through the four rooms takes the viewer from naturalistic landscapes that critique human expansion to quotidian portraiture to the abstract Miro to fantasy landscapes to the bright red wall and back. I travel through time, style and space in four round trips and about 30 minutes around the gallery.

I head back downstairs to browse the bookstore and try a cappuccino at the new cafe. I heard they have great cookies. Great art, coffee, and cookies, what more could you ask for in your on-campus museum visit?