History

Our story

We began as a university art collection without a gallery, but with a wealth of vision and bold aspirations. Today, our museum is an architectural landmark and so much more—a newly renovated, dynamic learning space that brings the process of conservation to life for visitors, explores the frontier of art-based wellness, and houses one of the most expansive university museum collections in the United States.

How we began

In 1941, Indiana University’s legendary president, Herman B Wells, and Henry Radford Hope, the head of IU’s art department, began to imagine an art collection that gathered works from around the world and all periods in human history. They sought out new donors and supporters, and even personally collected significant works of art that they would later donate.

In 1962, IU opened its Fine Arts Building, allowing the collection to be shared more broadly with IU students and the public. But as works grew in number and quality, it became increasingly clear that the university needed its own dedicated art museum.

Iconic geometry—our landmark building

For architecture buffs, the modernist structure that was built to conserve and showcase IU’s art collection is a masterpiece unto itself. The building, which opened in 1982, was designed by acclaimed architect I.M. Pei, and is a sibling to his other iconic 20th-century museum designs, including the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the glass pyramid entrance to the Louvre in Paris, France. (Pei also designed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.)

An internationally acclaimed collection

Seventy-five years after its founding, our collection has nearly 45,000 objects, making it one of the largest art holdings of any American university art museum. The treasures you can find in our galleries range from ancient gold jewelry and African art to paintings by Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron. These thoughtfully collected objects represent nearly every art-producing culture throughout history.

A legacy of teaching and learning

Our outreach to IU’s student body has become one of the strongest in an American university, and more than 160,000 K–12 students from southern Indiana have visited the museum. The four new learning centers that have been launched with the renovation of our building introduce an exciting new chapter, cementing our position as one of the premier teaching museums in the United States.

Our visionary leadership

The Eskenazi Museum of Art has an ongoing legacy of extraordinary directors who have each pioneered new chapters in our history.

Henry Radford Hope

Henry Radford Hope, head of IU’s art department and our first director, was a specialist in the history of modern art. He earned his doctoral degree from Harvard University, where he studied with Paul Sachs, the architect of a training program that produced several of the 20th century's most influential art museum directors. He and his wife, Sarahanne (Sally), donated some of our most notable works, including Pablo Picasso’s The Studio, and Francesco Solimena's Allegory of the Four Parts of the World. Hope also recruited the important man who would become his successor when he retired in 1971, Thomas T. Solley.

Thomas T. Solley

During his 15 years as director, Solley—a Yale University-educated art collector and member of the Indianapolis Lilly family—significantly increased our holdings through personal acquisitions and his relationships with collectors. He also shepherded the museum from its first home in IU’s Fine Arts building to the I.M. Pei-designed structure.

Adelheid “Heidi” Gealt

In 1987, the museum’s next director, Adelheid “Heidi” Gealt, began to develop our educational and curatorial departments. She also laid a strong economic foundation for the institution. Under her leadership, the education program and sustaining endowments to secure our future both grew exponentially.

David A. Brenneman

The current Wilma E. Kelley Director of the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, David A. Brenneman, has led us through our $30 million renovation and its enhanced experiences for visitors. Since his arrival in Bloomington in 2015, he has championed transformative national and international partnerships for the museum, created an acquisition strategy for our collection, and led the curatorial team in the creation of a robust exhibition program.

Philanthropy has helped our museum thrive

We believe that seeing art in its original form enriches the cultural, educational, and spiritual well-being of society and we are dedicated to sharing our collection with as many people as possible. Our museum is free, thanks to philanthropy from individuals who share these beliefs.

Most of our acquisitions have been the result of gifts of art or purchase funds from individual donors. And in 2016, a major gift from Sidney and Lois Eskenazi was given to help fund a full renovation of the museum. To honor their generosity, the museum was renamed the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, marking the beginning of this exciting new chapter.