St. Louis’ Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum will reopen this fall with a big artistic bang: an exhibition by celebrated Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei.
The Kemper closed last April for a $12 million renovation, part of $280 million campus project. The work significantly increases the museum’s display space.
The Sept. 28 opening will feature three dozen Ai Weiwei pieces, including some created for the exhibition and others never before seen in the United States.
The “Ai Weiwei: Bare Life” exhibition is an auspicious debut of the new space, according to Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.
"He might be arguably the most famous artist in the world right now," Colangelo said.
'Poetic and powerful'
Ai Weiwei, who lived and worked in the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s, has been openly critical of the Chinese government. His focus on human rights resonates strongly in today’s political climate, Colangelo said.
“He speaks to issues around the globe, such as refugees, in a very poetic and powerful way,” he said.
The exhibition demonstrates the museum’s desire to think beyond the Euro-centric emphasis that’s typical of U.S. art institutions.
“We want the museum to have a global focus,” Colangelo said. “And we will continue to try to make the focus of collecting going even into the future more global in its reach.”
The Kemper likely will add at least one piece from the artist to its permanent collection, which already totals more than 8,000 works.
“The main goal is to allow us to have more of the permanent collection on display,” Colangelo said.
‘Larger and more diverse audiences’
The Kemper is one of the oldest collecting institutions west of the Mississippi River. Founded in 1881 as the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts, it was initially located in downtown St. Louis.
In 1960, the museum moved to Steinberg Hall on campus and in 2006, the Kemper opened as part of the Fox School. The expansion reflects a mission of collecting and preserving modern and contemporary art for future generations while engaging students and the St. Louis region, said Museum Director and Chief Curator Sabine Eckmann, in a news release.
“It will enable us to reach larger and more diverse audiences and to deepen our exhibition and collecting programs while reflecting an even broader array of both modern and contemporary artistic practices,” Eckmann said.
The larger Wash U project adds a new welcome center and a building for art and architecurual studies called Weil Hall, which will include graduate studios and classrooms, as well as two stories of underground parking.
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