In 1941, the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, then known as the Indiana University Art Museum, began as an idea in the minds of Indiana University’s legendary president, Herman B Wells, and Henry Hope, the newly appointed head of the university’s art department. Fortunately, both men lived to see their abstract idea realized in what would become one of the finest university art museums in America.
Even before the museum had a building, Wells and Hope devised a roadmap for the growth of the university’s art collection that included the goal of collecting as widely as possible and gathering works from around the world and from all periods in human history. Wells and Hope personally collected works of art that would later enrich the museum’s collections, and they were pivotal in steering donors to the nascent university art collection. Most of the museum’s acquisitions have been the result of gifts of art or purchase funds from individual donors. With the construction of the Fine Arts building in 1962, the university provided a gallery space for the display of the growing collection.
As the collections grew in number, but, more important, in quality, it became increasingly clear that gallery space within the Fine Arts building would not be adequate and the university would need a dedicated museum building to properly house its burgeoning art collections. In 1971, Hope retired as museum director and was succeeded by Thomas T. Solley. In 1973, Solley and the university contracted the architect I. M. Pei—unquestionably one of the most important museum architects of the latter half of the twentieth century—to design a building dedicated to housing the art collection. Pei’s design for Indiana University, which was completed in 1982, gave the university not just a great museum, but also a major example of modern architecture.
In the late 1980s, under then director Adelheid “Heidi” Gealt, the museum’s education program grew exponentially. Its outreach to Indiana University’s student body has become one of the strongest in an American university, and an estimated 160,000 K–12 students from southern Indiana have visited the museum in that time.
Seventy-five years after its founding, the museum’s internationally acclaimed collections comprise almost 45,000 objects, making it one of the largest art holdings of any American university art museum. The collections range from ancient gold jewelry and African masks to paintings by Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, with objects representing nearly every art-producing culture throughout history.
In May of 2016, Indiana University announced a major gift from Sidney and Lois Eskenazi that will help fund a full renovation of the museum, to be completed by 2020. In honor of their gift, the museum was renamed the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, marking the beginning of a bright and bold new chapter for the arts at Indiana University.
We invite you to visit our museum and see with your own eyes the many treasures that it holds. As we are dedicated to sharing out collection with as many people as possible, in the belief that seeing art in the original enriches the cultural, educational, and spiritual well-being of society, admission to our fine museum is always free.