FEATURE — Spring 2007

The Fumihiko Maki–designed Kemper Art Museum features Olafur Eliasson’s Your Imploded View (2001), a 600-pound aluminum sphere that swings like a pendulum from the atrium’s vaulted ceiling.

Where Art Meets Architecture

With the fall 2006 opening of the new Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Hall, the University now has a five-building complex that draws together its distinguished art, architecture, and museum programs into one creative, collaborative unit, the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

By Liam Otten

In 1960 a young Japanese architecture professor named Fumihiko Maki completed his first-ever commission—Steinberg Hall—while teaching at Washington University in St. Louis. For years that building, which showcased the University’s internationally renowned art collection, represented Maki’s only built work in the United States.

Four decades later, Maki is among the world’s premier architects, a winner of the Pritzker Prize known for creating monumental spaces that fuse Eastern and Western sensibilities. Current projects include both the $330 million United Nations expansion in Manhattan and Tower 4 at the former World Trade Center site (scheduled to open in 2008 and 2011, respectively).

And Maki has returned to Washington University as architect of the new Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, a dramatic, light-filled structure that now showcases the University’s art collection.

The Kemper Art Museum is both the centerpiece and the public face of Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. The School’s five-building, $56.8 million complex also features Maki’s new Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Hall, which houses studios, classrooms, and offices for art students and faculty.

Both new buildings were dedicated on October 25, 2006. Festivities also celebrated the Sam Fox School, which was created last year to link the museum and the University’s nationally ranked College of Art, College of Architecture, Graduate School of Art, and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design.

“The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts strengthens the arts at Washington University by drawing together our distinguished art, architecture, and museum programs,” asserts Chancellor Mark. S. Wrighton. “It fosters a collaborative, interdisciplinary environment in which students and faculty can strive for excellence and distinction.”

Buildings mirror School’s aspirations

Fumihiko Maki designed both the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum (left) and Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Hall, which houses studios, classrooms, and offices for art students and faculty.

In addition to the Kemper Art Museum and Walker Hall, the Sam Fox School includes two recently renovated buildings, the Beaux Arts–era Bixby and Givens halls. These house additional facilities for the College of Art as well as for the College of Architecture and the Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design.

Rounding out the complex is Maki’s original commission, Steinberg Hall, which is being renovated during this school year. Once completed, Steinberg Hall will include new art and architecture studios as well as the School’s primary auditorium.

“Maki’s intimate relationship with Washington University makes him the ideal architect for the Sam Fox School,” stresses Dean Carmon Colangelo. “His designs are thoughtful, innovative, and inspirational. In many ways, they exemplify our own aspirations and our vision for the future of design and the visual arts at the University.

“At a time when art is no longer produced just in the studio, students benefit from interdisciplinary dialogues and the sharing of new technologies,” Colangelo continues. “The Sam Fox School has both the opportunity and the resources to encourage and nurture individual talents while promoting community engagement, critical thinking, and creative production in the art, architecture, and design worlds.”

The Kemper Art Museum is home to one of the finest university art collections in the United States and more than triples the exhibition space previously available in Steinberg Hall.

A home fit for an impressive art collection

The 65,000-square-foot, limestone-clad Kemper Art Museum is home to one of the finest university art collections in the United States, including important paintings, sculptures, photographs, and installations by major 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century American and European artists. The museum more than triples the exhibition space previously available in Steinberg Hall, and it is ideally suited to the display of large-scale and new-media work.

On the main floor, the central, barrel-vaulted Saligman Family Atrium is flanked on either end by open, curtain-wall glass entrances. Soaring 25-foot ceilings, generous skylights, and banks of clerestory windows define the Special Exhibitions Gallery and the College of Art Gallery, both located just off the atrium. The floating limestone Freund Family Grand Staircase brings visitors up to the luminous Bernoudy Permanent Collection Gallery, also distinguished by large, recessed skylights.

“Maki’s interiors are informed by a modernist sensibility, which he realizes through a proportional application of grids and geometric forms,” says Sabine Eckmann, director and chief curator of the Kemper Art Museum. “The formal effect is softened by an integrated use of natural light that creates a spacious but intimate atmosphere and allows for relations between inside and outside.”

The elevated 5,000-square-foot Florence Steinberg Weil Sculpture Plaza extends the museum’s exhibition space outdoors from the May Department Stores Company Foyer on the building’s north side. Alongside works from the collection—including the museum’s signature Five Rudders (1964) by Alexander Calder—the sculpture garden features a site-specific installation commissioned from Dan Peterman. The Chicago artist employs a post-minimalist aesthetic to create functional objects made of post-consumer materials.

Board chairman David Kemper (left) and Chancellor Mark Wrighton (right) greet Earl E. Walker at the dedication ceremonies in October 2006.

Other recent acquisitions—purchased specifically for the new building—are installed in the atrium: a monumental canvas, MM6 (2001), by Michel Majerus; and Olafur Eliasson’s spectacular Your Imploded View (2001), a highly-polished, 600-pound aluminum sphere that swings like a pendulum from the atrium’s vaulted ceiling.

“Both works deliberately negotiate the impact of new technology on the production and perception of art,” Eckmann notes. “While Majerus combines the aesthetics of electronic art with the medium of painting in the 21st century, Eliasson’s installation, through its reflective and distorting qualities, implicates viewers in both the art and the surrounding architecture. It shows us caught in the act of seeing ourselves see.”

In addition to galleries, the Kemper Art Museum includes the following:

  • the 3,000-square-foot Newman Money Museum, featuring displays on the history of coins and currency, a numismatic library, a curator’s office, and work areas for visiting scholars,
  • the 12,000-square-foot Kenneth and Nancy Kranzberg Library, housing books, a slide library, and other research materials for art, architecture, and art history,
  • offices and classrooms for the Department of Art History & Archaeology in Arts & Sciences,
  • the Whitaker Learning Lab, a new-media center,
  • the Lehmann Museum Classroom,
  • the Kemp Reading Room,
  • the Lopata Art History Classroom, and
  • state-of-the-art storage and support facilities.
Sam Fox (left) and architect Fumihiko Maki attended the ceremonies, too.

Transforming the student experience

Walker Hall, located east of the Kemper Art Museum, contains approximately 38,000 square feet of art studio space as well as the Shapleigh Courtyard and Terrace, enclosed along the north side, for materials and fabrication.

Like the Kemper Art Museum, Walker Hall is defined by its open, flexible floor plan and abundant natural light. Ceramics, woodworking, and metalworking facilities are located on the main floor, with undergraduate sculpture studios on the lower level. The upper level features undergraduate painting as well as the interdisciplinary Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Studio for the Illustrated Book.

All studios showcase state-of-the-art systems for art production as well as fluid floor plans designed to facilitate collaborative study and discussion.

Jeff Pike, the Jane Reuter Hitzeman and Herbert F. Hitzeman, Jr. Professor and dean of Art, points out that Walker Hall, along with recent renovations to Bixby and Givens halls, will allow programs currently housed at satellite facilities—some located more than a mile from the Danforth Campus—to return to campus for the first time in decades. This, he explains, will promote a renewed sense of community within the College of Art while also fostering greater interaction among other units of the Sam Fox School.

“The opening of Walker Hall and the Kemper Art Museum will transform the experience of art and architecture students and faculty,” Pike says. “For the first time in decades, all of the University’s undergraduate design and visual arts programs will be located in a single, central location.”

Dedicated to the creation, study, and exhibition of multidisciplinary and collaborative work, the Sam Fox School reflects larger developments within art and architecture education, explained Dean Carmon Colangelo, the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration in the Arts.

One example of the synergy in design and visual arts is the Whitaker Foundation Learning Lab, a 3,000-square-foot media center located in the Kemper Art Museum that contains laser plotters, printers, and other specialized equipment for architecture, art, and design majors. Facilities also include 25 workstations, research studios to accommodate sound and video production, and technical and faculty offices, the latter allotted by application and designed to support digital-intensive projects.

“Fifteen years ago media centers were conceived as static, classroom-style environments,” says Peter MacKeith, associate dean of the Sam Fox School and associate professor of architecture, who oversees the Whitaker lab. “Today things are very different. The media center is now more akin to a research lab.

“The media lab is not only about gaining facility with new tools, techniques, and methodologies,” MacKeith points out. “It’s about stepping back, observing what is being produced, and developing the critical perspective and critical language with which to evaluate it.”

“We sometimes talk about ‘thinking outside the box,’” says Colangelo, an acclaimed printmaker who arrived on campus in July 2006. “But students today don’t even recognize that there is a box. Emerging technologies and new forms of artistic production have profoundly affected the way we view and interact with the world. There’s a sense of openness, a freedom, and an ability to move between categories and disciplines.

“On the one hand, students still need to master the craft of their respective, medium-specific disciplines,” he continues. “On the other hand, they also benefit from exposure to interdisciplinary training and dialogue. Our challenge is to provide an educational structure that fosters, rather than impedes, such collaborations.”

Alumnus Tom Friedman’s Pure Invention Is One of the Museum’s Inaugural Exhibitions

Alumnus Tom Friedman recreates Untitled [Toothpaste on Wall] (1989) as part of the Pure Invention exhibition.

Play-Doh®, spaghetti, and aluminum foil—sculptor Tom Friedman transforms mundane consumer products into playful yet meticulously crafted artworks of almost obsessive intricacy.

This past fall, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum inaugurated its new College of Art Gallery with Pure Invention, an exhibition of work by the renowned WUSTL alumnus. Drawn largely from St. Louis–area collections, Pure Invention was curated by Michael Byron, professor of painting in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. It featured more than 20 works surveying the last decade of Friedman’s career, from early drawings and multimedia constructions to recent large-scale prints, sculptures, and installations.

Though influenced by minimal and conceptual art, Friedman’s work is characterized by its keen attention to process and use of modest, ephemeral-seeming materials. For example, the inkjet print Untitled [Dots and Arrows] (1997) diagrams the potential visual complexities of a simple word-association game.

Friedman also displays a sly, almost scientific interest in systems of representation. Untitled [Paper Fly] (2003) is a trompe-l’oeil drawing of the common household pest, while Untitled [Fly on Wall] (also 2003) is a similarly composed sculpture crafted from plastic, hair, fuzz, Play-Doh®, wire, and paint.

Another recurring theme is Friedman’s quirky, self-effacing brand of self-portraiture. Vanishing Point [Clothes Removal]—a large photogravure created in 2006 in collaboration with Island Press, the Sam Fox School’s professional print shop—depicts the artist’s scattered garments trailing into the distance of a pristine, white studio-like space.

Born in St. Louis in 1965, Friedman earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic illustration from the University in 1988 and a master’s degree in sculpture from the University of Illinois, Chicago in 1990. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others.

In other news, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, through April 29, is presenting Reality Bites: Making Avant-garde Art in Post-Wall Germany, the first thematic museum exhibition to examine how contemporary international artists have dealt with the social, economic, and political ramifications of German unification. Reality Bites is conceived and organized by Sabine Eckmann, director and chief curator of the Kemper Art Museum.

Liam Otten is a senior news writer in the Office of University Communications.