Ancient Art

The art in this collection is from the vast region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and the Near East—an area that incorporates and interconnects three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. It invites museum visitors to look into a past world very different from our own, yet one that has continued to influence the development of ideas through modern times. This collection includes objects dating from 30,000 BCE through 1000 CE, and addresses themes like religious ritual, funerary practices, public ceremony, and daily life. Our collection of ancient art contains works from many cultures, including Sumerian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian, Minoan, Mycenaean, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman.

Asian Art

The museum’s Asian and Islamic art collection spans 4,000 years. Asia is the longtime home of most of the human population. Guided by shared characteristics, the collection is organized into five major groups determined by geographic region and historical or cultural affinities, although each country has its distinct cultural heritage.

East Asia includes the modern countries of Japan, China, and Korea. Historically, Korea and Japan absorbed many of the religious and cultural characteristics of China, such as the practice of Mahayana Buddhism.

Southeast Asia, represented by countries such as Thailand and Cambodia, shares the Hindu and Theravada Buddhist religious traditions. Central Eurasia includes the ancient Kushan kingdom of Gandhara and the animal art of the bronze-age steppes, as well as the art of contemporary nations such as Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal, and Bhutan. These countries share the religious practice of Esoteric or Tantric Buddhism. South Asia is mostly, but not exclusively, represented by the arts of India and its many religious traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jain, and Islam.

The Islamic collection is defined by religious practice rather than by geographic area and includes the art of Mogul India as well as the Middle East.

Art of Africa, Oceania, and Indigenous Art of the Americas

The Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Art of Africa, Oceania, and Indigenous Art of the Americas collection tells stories of hundreds of ethnic groups and cultures spread across four continents and the planet’s largest ocean. Some objects date from more than three thousand years ago, while others belong to practices that continue today.

The oldest objects in the collection are part of the Indigenous Art of the Americas installation, which emphasizes the cultures of ancient Mesoamerica and Peru. The Indigenous Art of the Americas section also includes a small group of more recent Native North American artworks.

The African and Oceanic areas provide broad surveys of what is often called "traditional" arts—figures, masks, and other objects that were made and used in local contexts involving spiritual practices, rites of passage, or demonstrations of prestige and status, including leadership activities. Most of these traditions underwent huge changes and transformations at various times in their more recent histories.

European and American Art

This collection, numbering approximately 5,000 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, spans from the Middle Ages to the late twentieth century. It is particularly strong in nineteenth-century American and French landscape painting, German Expressionism, modernist sculpture, Dada (including the only complete set of Marcel Duchamp’s iconic Readymades in the United States), and post–World War II abstract painting. Another highlight is Stuart Davis’s mural Swing Landscape, one of the most significant American paintings of the twentieth century.

More information about European paintings and sculptures in the collection can be found on our Nazi-Era Provenance Research Project.

Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Rooted in works from an IU teaching collection that dates back to 1896, our prints, drawings, and photographs collection has always been one of our largest holdings. With the appointment of the museum’s first director, Henry Radford Hope, in 1941, there was a concerted effort to collect museum-quality prints and drawings by the great masters from the fifteenth century to the present. In the 1960s, the museum established an important photography collection, which not only provides a survey of leading practitioners of the medium but also includes the archives of Henry Holmes Smith, Art Sinsabaugh, and Jeffrey A. Wolin.

Contemporary Art

At one time, each object in the museum was contemporary. In this spirit, our contemporary art program unites the museum’s strengths in all its existing collections while extending historical conversations about art into the present. Our contemporary exhibition and collecting programs are driven by our core teaching and learning mission. Contemporary works are featured in nearly all of the museum’s galleries, hung beside historical works of art that share cultural and thematic elements. The dedication of a new gallery devoted to time-based media provides expanded opportunities to exhibit emerging and experimental digital art.