Q&A with Barbara Bindler

Barbara Bindler at the Kemper Art Museum. Photo by Whitney Curtis.

An interview with the new president of Women and the Kemper

Posted by Liam Otten January 21, 2014

As a Washington University junior in 1963, Barbara Bindler took her first art history course in Steinberg Hall. Bindler returns to the east end of campus as president of Women and the Kemper, which is dedicated to encouraging women's participation in all aspects of the visual arts.

We sat down to talk about Women and the Kemper, upcoming activities, and some of Bindler's own favorites from the collection.

You and your husband Dan (BSBA '65) began buying art as a young couple. What attracts you to a piece? Can you describe some favorite works?

I'm fascinated by the concept of movement. For a long time, I collected kaleidoscopes because I was captivated by the idea of infinite structure—of never seeing the same image repeated twice.

But our latest piece is a large terra-cotta vessel, set on a kind of moving pedestal, by the clay sculptor Sandy Kaplan. We went to a show of hers at Regional Arts Commission and just fell in love with the piece. We also have a Hiro Yamagata lithograph of Marilyn Monroe, which is pretty interesting.

Dan's a photographer, along with our daughters, so we have some of their work up. And in another university connection, we have two paintings by Dan's aunt, Bernice [Bindler] Gittelman, who graduated from the School of Art in 1939.

What about the Kemper Art Museum? Can you describe a favorite work or exhibition?

In the permanent collection, Max Beckmann's Les artistes mit Gemüse (Artists with Vegetable) (1943) has always been a favorite of mine. He really lets you feel the emotion of that scene.

Cloud Specific, the 2011 installation by Tomás Saraceno, was really amazing. I can't think of another show in St. Louis that has stretched the imagination quite like that one did. Last fall, Rashid Johnson was wonderful—and we had a fantastic opening. It was a great "people watching" crowd.

And the Georges Braque show! Oh my gosh, that was a blockbuster. I felt so proud of the Museum for putting that together.

Tell us about Women and the Kemper. How big is the group?

When we first started, there were maybe 50 members. Now we're over 130. Susan Colangelo, founding president, and JoAnn Sanditz, past president, have done a phenomenal job of outreach and promotion. But the Kemper is such a jewel for the city. Once people come and experience a program here, the Museum just sells itself.

What sorts of events do you sponsor?

We do three or four study sessions each year, as well as our annual luncheon. The study sessions can be about an individual artist, such as Braque, or about something else. Last spring, we took a fascinating "behind the scenes" look at the Kemper facilities. Next spring we're going to examine unusual materials, methods, and media. WAK members also have the opportunity to view local private collections.

You also sponsor arts tours, both on campus and around St. Louis.

That's right. Last fall, we did a Cherokee Street studio crawl. Next spring, we'll visit the School of Medicine Arts Commission permanent collection, and an exhibition by watercolorist Marilynne Bradley, as well as the art and architecture of historic Bellefontaine Cemetery. Someday, we hope to organize an excursion to another city.

On January 25, we sponsored our annual open studio with the Sam Fox School's Graduate School of Art. Students allow us to come in, to see what they're working on and talk to them about it. That's a fabulous experience. It really gives you a feeling for what's happening in the art world and with our young people.

That's the wonderful thing about Women and the Kemper. It allows you to discover new things, and to see how art lives and breathes.

You took your first art history course in Steinberg Hall, the Museum's former home. Tell us about that.

It would have been 1963-64, with Professor Norris Smith. He was very prominent, and it was hard to get into the class—everybody wanted to take it! We went from ancient Greece and Rome right up to the modern era, people like Piet Mondrian and Roy Lichtenstein. The textbook was H.W. Janson's History of Art.

Janson, of course, was curator of the WUSTL art collection in the 1940s…

Janson was responsible for purchasing a number of important paintings that remain part of the Museum's permanent collection, including the Beckmann I mentioned. He was very much ahead of his time.

So to sit here now—across the courtyard from Steinberg, with all the phenomenal progress and expansion we've seen to this part of campus—it's really fabulous.