The Kemper Art Museum is part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. Nationally accredited with an internationally renowned collection, it is uniquely positioned on the University’s Danforth Campus, bringing together the cultural offerings of the adjacent Forest Park, St. Louis’s preeminent urban park; the vibrant social life of surrounding neighborhoods; the creative practices of the Sam Fox School; and the academic excellence of Washington University.
With some 8,700 artworks in its collection, the Museum has especially strong holdings of 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century European and American art and a growing collection of global art. Its active exhibition program presents the work of leading contemporary artists as well as historical art in thought-provoking thematic explorations of creative practices and their relation to sociopolitical issues relevant to today’s world. As one of the University’s primary interfaces with the public, the Museum welcomes and serves a wide range of local audiences, with lectures, panels, gallery talks, and performances providing ways to delve deeper into the art.
The Kemper Art Museum dates to 1881 with the founding of the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts at Washington University. Its collection formed in large part by acquiring significant works by artists of the time over the ensuing century and a half, a legacy that continues today. With particular strengths in modern and contemporary art, it holds one of the finest university art collections in the United States.
Established in 1881 as the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts, a department of Washington University, the Museum was initially located in a neo-Renaissance building in downtown St. Louis under the direction of Halsey C. Ives.
In 1906 the collection was moved to the Palace of Fine Arts in Forest Park, a building designed by Cass Gilbert for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. It remained there until the opening of Steinberg Hall on the University’s main campus in 1960, which physically linked Washington University’s visual arts departments with the Museum, then named the Washington University Gallery of Art.
In 2006 the Museum—renamed the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum—moved into a new building in conjunction with its incorporation into Washington University's newly formed Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Both Steinberg Hall and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum building were designed by the Pritzker Prize–winning architect Fumihiko Maki.
In 2019 Washington University completed one of the most significant capital projects in the recent history of the Danforth Campus. The comprehensive transformation of the east end of the campus included a significant expansion of the Kemper Art Museum, designed by the architecture firm KieranTimberlake. The new and reconfigured galleries more than doubled the exhibition space for the Museum's permanent collection.
Learn more about the history of the Museum here.