Crosby Kemper, contributor to Midtown art museums, has died

RCrosbyKemperjr_hi-resLocal banker R. Crosby Kemper, a major philanthropist in Kansas City, has died.

The Kansas City Star reports Kemper died Thursday night in California.

Kemper headed the UMB Financial Corporation and was a leading contributor to many civic causes including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. He also donated $6 million to build the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Design at 4420 Warwick.

“I’m so sorry to hear about the passing of R. Crosby Kemper, Jr, a valued member of the Kansas City family who dedicated himself fully to every endeavor he took on – from banking and business to arts and culture,” Mayor Sly James said in a statement. “Always a maverick, he showed us that a dose of independence and willpower can often move people and institutions forward more quickly than running with the flock. I always appreciated his engagement in our community and know that our City is better off today because he called it home. “

The Kemper Museum said it is deeply saddened at the news.

“Kansas City and its arts community mourn the loss of a true giant from our midst,” Josh Sosland, vice chairman of the board of trustees, said. “Mr. Kemper was a guiding force at the Kemper Museum for nearly two decades, and he will be missed by our board, our staff, and everyone connected with the Museum. At the same time we are gratified by the enduring legacy he has left behind in the Kemper.”

Here’s more from the museum:

Known for his keen insight and passion for the arts, Mr. Kemper saw a need for a modern and contemporary art museum in Kansas City. He worked with the Kansas City Art Institute and other civic leaders and organizations to establish the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Design. The Museum was named in memory of his grandmother, Charlotte Crosby Kemper, an ardent supporter of the arts

The Kemper Museum—the first museum in the state of Missouri dedicated to contemporary art—opened to the public to great fanfare on October 2, 1994. In 1995 when the Museum severed its ties with the Kansas City Art Institute, it was placed under the governance of an autonomous nonprofit trust estate, the Kemper Museum Operating Foundation, and Mr. Kemper became Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

“Anyone modestly familiar with the contemporary art scene in Kansas City understands how Mr. Kemper helped usher in a new era with the opening of the Kemper Museum with its gleaming, beautiful spaces, spectacular art collection, challenging shows, and world class dining,” Sosland added. “The Museum has been a stunningly successful addition to our city in its own right, but it is impossible to ignore the role of the Kemper as a catalyst to the wonderful additions that followed at other art institutions here, large and small.

“The world of art in Kansas City is very different today than in the early 1990s when the Museum opened. The community is very fortunate that early in the life of the Kemper Museum, Mr. Kemper thought about and took steps to ensure the Museum would remain a treasure that would serve art lovers long after he was gone. Speaking for the board of trustees, we are profoundly appreciative of Mr. Kemper’s leadership, vision, and generosity.”

“It’s also obvious to those who knew Mr. Kemper that he was a man of great and intense passions,” noted Sosland. “That he poured those passions into the Kemper Museum, together with many other community and national institutions, allowed him to establish a magnificent legacy that benefits all of us.”

Under Mr. Kemper’s stewardship, the Kemper Museum established itself as a center for modern and contemporary art. Its permanent collection more than tripled with works of art by artists from around the world. At the core of the Museum’s permanent collection stands the Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection, numbering more than one thousand works of art by artists, such as Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning, Morris Louis, Georgia O’Keeffe, Fairfield Porter, Wayne Thiebaud, Andy Warhol, and Andrew Wyeth, among others. More than 250 special exhibitions have been organized, and the Kemper Museum now operates three locations—the original Gunnar Birkerts-designed primary location, Kemper at the Crossroads, and Kemper East. Millions have visited since its opening in 1994.

“It has been a great privilege to serve as Executive Director of the Kemper Museum under the guidance and leadership of Mr. Kemper,” said Barbara O’Brien. “It will be the guiding principle of the Kemper Museum to honor his legacy and to live out his vision for the role of the Kemper in the cultural life of Kansas City. He was not only a leader, but also a great teacher: he taught us all something about art, artists, and life. On behalf of the entire staff of the Kemper Museum, he will be sorely and forever missed. Our hearts go out to his family and many dear friends throughout Kansas City and across the country.”

Born on February 22, 1927, in Kansas City, Missouri, Mr. Kemper first began collecting art while he was a college student at the University of Missouri. Over the passing decades, his interest in art grew as well as his collections—personal and corporate. Today, UMB Bank, n.a., holds a vast collection of art, on view at its corporate headquarters and various offices and branches. In his book Banking on Art (2000), Mr. Kemper wrote, “my joy is to live surrounded by beauty, and what is more beautiful than art? I do not feel I possess art, but am merely the caretaker for another collector or a museum.” He and his family have enjoyed many close relationships with numerous artists, including Thomas Hart Benton, members of the Wyeth family, and Frederick James Brown. For several years, Mr. Kemper was listed by ARTnews magazine among “The World’s Top 200 Collectors.”

He served on a number of board and national committees for National Museum of American Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Addison Gallery at Phillips Academy, among others. He has given generously—including works of art—to numerous institutions, including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation at Monticello.



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