The Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art in Bloomington Indiana, founded in 1941, has developed from a modest university teaching collection into one of the top university art museums in the nation. The Eskenazi Museum of Art now has more than 45,000 items from practically every artistically inclined civilization throughout history, including paintings by Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, African masks, and ancient gold jewelry.
The Eskenazi Museum of Art, which is situated in the center of the Indiana University campus, is in and of itself a piece of art. Invented by I.M. The Eskenazi Museum of Art was designed by I. M. Pei, who also created the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris. There are just a few technically essential 90-degree angles in the building.
The design of the museum is an experiment with angles. It is false, contrary to rumors, that it lacks proper angles. The structure has several square and rectangular windows, and the floors and walls meet at a 90-degree angle. Two concrete triangles are joined by a glass-ceiling atrium in the design. The museum has a total floor area of 105,000 square feet, of which the exhibition space takes up 38,361 square feet and the atrium 18,000 square feet. Offices, a gift store, storage, and the outdoor sculpture terrace are all housed in the remaining area.
The Eskenazi Museum of Art seeks to further Indiana’s academic goals through conserving, displaying, collecting research, publishing, and interpreting original works of art.
Under the leadership of Henry Radford Hope, who had just been named director of the Department of Fine Arts, the Eskenazi Museum of Art debuted in 1941 in a gallery area of Mitchell Hall. On November 21, 1941, the Sixteen Brown County Painters debuted as the museum’s first exhibition.
The idea of creating a permanent collection for an art museum at Indiana University was revived by Hope in 1955 after James and Marvelle Adams donated a terracotta bust by Aristide Maillol, which was the catalyst for the idea to be realized after World War II. The majority of the museum’s early acquisitions were funded by James Adams’ William Lowe Bryan Memorial Fund, which was established in memory of the university’s tenth president and in support of the growing museum. Hope made a contribution to the museum as well, donating a number of significant pieces, including The Studio by Pablo Picasso. Early on, throughout the museum’s formative years in the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, donations piled up quickly.
In 1962, the museum relocated into the gallery area of the recently constructed Fine Arts building on campus, near the auditorium. The Board of Trustees of the university began allocating a little sum for the museum each year, with extra special appropriations for the Art Museum to expand the collection, at the encouragement of then-University Chancellor Herman B. Wells.
Thomas T. Solley was hired by Hope in 1968 to serve as the museum’s assistant director. After Hope’s retirement in 1971, Solley was named Director. He was an architect by training, and the ideal candidate to begin the process of creating a distinct structure for the art museum. In 1974, Solley and the university chose I.M. Pei and Partners for the project as they wanted an architect with knowledge of museum design. The building, which was finished in 1982, comprises one gallery for special exhibits and three galleries for permanent collections. During his tenure at the museum, Solley increased the collection from 4,000 to 30,000 pieces.
Following the resignation of Thomas T. Solley in 1986, Adelheid M. Gealt was named director. Gealt was in office until 2015. End of June 2015 saw Gealt leave the museum, and David A. Brenneman took over as the Wilma E. Kelley Director.
Ancient Greek pottery, Renaissance panels, Asian artifacts from the third millennium BC, modern pieces by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Claude Monet, and over 45,000 other items are on display in the museum. The museum takes pleasure in utilizing art as a tool to help visitors comprehend the human experience. It has items from almost every civilization that has produced art throughout history.
There are seven art galleries that guests may tour and observe at, with collections that almost reflect every art-making culture in the globe.
Ancient Art – The artwork in this collection comes from the huge territory that includes and links three continents—Africa, Asia, and Europe—that surrounds the Mediterranean Sea and the Near East. It encourages museum visitors to take a glimpse into a former world that is completely unlike from our own but has continued to have an impact on how ideas have evolved throughout current times. This collection covers topics including religious ritual, burial rituals, public ceremonial, and daily living. The artifacts in this collection range in age from 30,000 BCE to 1000 CE. Work from several ancient cultures, including Sumerian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Persian, Minoan, Mycenaean, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman, may be found in our collection of antiquity.
Caption: A Greek funeral volute krater with a red-figure funerary figure from the late fourth century BC shows the departed person beneath Ionic columns. Early in the sixth century BC, Laconian potters created this kind of krater, which is distinguished by handles with a volute form. Attic potters later adopted it. The volute krater is on display at the Eskenazi Museum of Art.
Caption: A sculpture depicting an Amazon riding a horse from antiquity. It’s probable that the Amazon and the horse were formerly independent objects that were later combined by an art dealer. Currently on display at the Eskenazi Museum of Arts
Asian Art – The Asian and Islamic art at the museum dates back 4,000 years. The majority of people have lived most of their lives in Asia. Although each nation has its own unique cultural history, the collection is divided into five main groupings based on similar qualities and historical or cultural affinities.
Japan, China, and Korea are contemporary nations that are part of East Asia. In the past, Korea and Japan assimilated many of China’s religious and cultural traits, including the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.
Southeast Asia represents the Hindu and Theravada Buddhist religious traditions through nations like Thailand and Cambodia. The ancient Kushan empire of Gandhara is located in central Eurasia, as are the animal sculptures of the bronze age steppes and the modern artworks of Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal, and Bhutan. Esoteric or Tantric Buddhism is practiced in each of these nations. The arts of India and its numerous religious traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Islam, serve as the primary, but not the only, representation of South Asia.
The Middle East and Mogul India are represented in the Islamic collection, which is characterized by religious practice rather than by geographical region.
Art of Africa, Oceania, and Indigenous Art of the Americas – Hundreds of ethnic groups and civilizations from four continents and the world’s biggest ocean are represented in the Art of Africa, Oceania, and Indigenous Art of the Americas collection at the Eskenazi Museum of Art. While some items come from techniques that are still in use today, others are older than three thousand years.
Caption: A marble Cycladic statue of a goddess or lady dating from between c. 2500 and c. 2400 BC. Although its origin is uncertain and clever forgeries of figures of this sort from the Cyclades are rife, it is said to be the work of the Goulandris Master. The figurine is now on exhibit in the Eskenazi Museum of Art.
The earliest items in the collection are included in the Indigenous Art of the Americas display, which focuses on the Mesoamerican and Peruvian pre-Columbian cultures. A limited collection of more modern Native North American artworks is also included in the section on Indigenous Art of the Americas.
The “traditional” arts—figures, masks, and other items that were created and utilized in local contexts including spiritual practices, rites of passage, or shows of prestige and rank, including leadership activities—are covered in great detail in the African and Oceanic sections. At different points in their more recent histories, the majority of these traditions suffered significant modifications and adjustments.
American and European Art – This collection, which contains over 5,000 works of art, includes ornamental pieces from the late 20th century to the Middle Ages. It is notably strong in Dada (containing the only full collection of Marcel Duchamp’s renowned Readymades in the United States), modernist sculpture, German Expressionism, and post-World War II abstract painting. One of the most important American paintings of the 20th century, Swing Landscape by Stuart Davis, is another standout.
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs – Our prints, drawings, and pictures collection has traditionally been one of our major assets, with its roots in pieces from an IU teaching collection that dates back to 1896. There was a deliberate attempt to gather museum-caliber prints and drawings by the great artists from the fourteenth century to the present when Henry Radford Hope was named the museum’s first director in 1941. The museum built up a significant photographic collection in the 1960s that contains the archives of Henry Holmes Smith, Art Sinsabaugh, and Jeffrey A. Wolin in addition to offering a survey of notable photographers.
Contemporary Art – Each piece in the museum was once a modern piece. In keeping with this, our contemporary art program combines the strengths of all the museum’s current holdings while bringing historical discussions of art into the present. Our primary teaching and learning objective serves as the foundation for our modern exhibition and collection initiatives. Nearly all of the museum’s galleries have contemporary artwork that is shown alongside older pieces of art that have similar cultural and thematic components. The opening of a new gallery focused on time-based media expands the possibilities for exhibiting cutting-edge and experimental digital art.
Education though Arts
The value of museums to students comes from their ability to broaden their knowledge in a variety of subjects, experience a new setting, and benefit from the unique learning environment they provide teachers.
The museum offers educational initiatives in which schools from 51 of Indiana’s 90 counties take part, reaching roughly 7,000 children annually. The museum collaborates with 55 distinct academic units within the university to offer curriculum-based tours to university students.
In order to provide visitors a special experience centered on up-close observation and interaction, the museum offers free tours given by docents who have received museum training.
Gallery Talks and Noon Talks are led by guest speakers, educators, graduate students, and curators and focus on the collection and special exhibitions. Through gazing at the works of art and conversing with the presenter, the audience learns about the historical setting and relevance of the pieces.
Every month on a Friday, the museum’s print viewing room hosts the One-Hour Exhibitions. These “mini exhibitions” feature a selection of pieces organized by artist, historical period, topic, or media and feature a curator-led informal conversation. First-come, first-served policies govern visitor admission.
2007 saw the completion of the Light Totem installation at the Eskenazi Museum of Art. It was commissioned as a short-term artwork to commemorate the construction of the Eskenazi Museum of Art building, which was completed 25 years ago.
In 2010, the Board of Trustees decided that Light Totem may remain outside the museum permanently due to its popularity with the campus and neighborhood. Both the 40-foot tube inside the museum’s atrium and the 70-foot freestanding tower were illuminated by light-emitting diodes (LEDs) created by artist Robert Shakespeare.
The Light Totem also uses a computer-generated display of shifting colors to brighten the Art Museum’s wall. Any color and a color change as frequently as every tenth of a second can be projected by any of the lit parts. According to the artist, the complete show requires only 3,000 watts of power, or roughly the same as when a hair dryer and toaster are running at the same time. Students are frequently observed watching the colors change while resting on their backs with their feet up against the wall.
The museum was a 2012 recipient of an Andrew J. Mellon Foundation endowment challenge grant, a $500,000 award.
In 2016, Sidney and Lois Eskenazi, two Indianapolis-based philanthropists, gave the museum a significant donation of $15 million to help pay for a complete refurbishment of the I.M. Pei-designed structure. Because of their contribution, the museum was renamed in their honor. The museum was closed in May 2017 for renovations. The rehabilitation was finished in 2019, and in November of the same year, the museum reopened to the public.