In the early 1960s, Owen and Leone Elliott of Cedar Rapids (shown above) offered the university their extensive collection of twentieth-century paintings, prints, antique silver, and jade on the condition that a museum be built to house their gift, along with the university's existing and future acquisitions of art. In response to this challenge, more than 2,000 individuals and businesses contributed funds for the museum's construction.
The UIMA opened in 1969, although the art collections of the University of Iowa predate the Museum of Art by several decades. During the 1940s and 1950s, the University's School of Art and Art History presented exhibitions of contemporary art and acquired works from these exhibitions. Many of the museum's most important paintings were acquired during those years, including Max Beckmann's Karneval, and Joan Miró's 1939 A Drop of Dew Falling from the Wing of a Bird Awakens Rosalie Asleep in the Shade of a Cobweb. Jackson Pollock's Mural was given to the University by Peggy Guggenheim in 1951.
The UIMA quickly earned recognition as one of the nation's finest university art museums. A gift from the late industrialist Roy Carver, of Muscatine, Iowa, made possible the construction of a major 27,000 sq. ft. addition, which opened in 1976 and housed the University of Iowa Foundation and the University of Iowa Alumni Association in addition to portions of the museum. Maxwell and Elizabeth Stanley, also of Muscatine, collected African art throughout the 1970s and, in 1979, much of their collection came to the museum.
The Alumni Association and UI Foundation moved out in 1999, leaving the entire 70,000 square foot building to the Museum of Art. In the summer of 2003, the long-awaited renovation of the former Alumni Center, or north wing, of the building began. Nearly 30,000 square feet of the building was gutted and substantial changes were made to the mechanical systems and spaces in the basement as well. The kitchens, offices, meeting rooms, etc. left behind by the UI Foundation and Alumni Association became galleries, store rooms, and work spaces.
The North Gallery for Special Exhibitions debuted in the fall of 2004, along with a remodeled Lasansky Room and the Nancy and Craig Willis Atrium (shown below). The old Print Study Room was converted into the Hoover-Paul Gallery for Works on Paper. The North Gallery added an additional 6,000 square feet of exhibition space to the museum for a total of 30,000 square feet for exhibitions.
In June 2008, the UIMA was flooded and forced to evacuate its collections. Working nearly non-stop during the week of June 9, the museum staff, art movers, and volunteers evacuated artworks totaling approximately 99 percent of the value of our collection before the floodwaters forced the closure of the UIMA on Friday, June 13.
In the weeks following the flood, the remaining art was evacuated to join the rest of the collection in secure art storage in Chicago. Meanwhile, the UIMA worked to secure alternative locations on- and off-campus to make the art accessible to its public.
In January 2009, the Figge Art Museum in Davenport offered the UIMA space in its state-of-the-art building for storage and exhibitions until a permanent home on the UI campus becomes available. In March, the UIMA began moving its collection to the Figge. In July, the museum finished its initial inventory of the objects.
Overall, about 200 objects needed some form of treatment by the conservators at Chicago Conservation Center because of the flood. Nearly all have been cared for and are now in storage at the Figge. UIMA works already slated for conservation before the flood—mainly African objects—remained in Chicago to receive the treatment they required.
In August 2009, the UIMA opened a new on-campus art venue in the Iowa Memorial Union. The UIMA@IMU, funded almost entirely by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), features more than 500 objects from the UIMA permanent collections, selected specifically to meet classroom needs. Temporary and traveling exhibitions are hosted in the Black Box Theater on the third floor at the IMU.
In 2014 the university entered into a partnership to replace the museum with a facility on leased private property. After an extensive site development and design process, UI President Bruce Harreld determined that the estimated cost of this plan was too high and in March 2016 university officials began considering alternative solutions. A new art museum construction project was proposed for a site on university property adjacent and connected to the Main Library . In June 2016 the Iowa Board of Regents gave permission for this plan to proceed.
Please see our News page for up-to-date information on the building project.
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Chief executive officers of the UIMA since its founding in 1969:
- Mr. James A. Leach, Interim Director January 2017-present
- Dr. Sean O'Harrow, 2010–2016 (former Executive Director of the Figge Art Museum)
- Mr. Willard L. Boyd, Interim Director 2010 (former President of the University of Iowa and of the Field Museum)
- Dr. Pamela White, Interim Director 2008-2010 (former Director of the Pentacrest Museums at the University of Iowa)
- Dr. Howard Creel Collinson, 2000-2008 (former Mona Campbell Curator in the department of Western art and culture at the Royal Ontario Museum)
- Dr. Stephen Prokopoff, 1992-2000 (former Director of the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois and former Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago)
- Ms. Mary Keough Lyman, Director 1990-1991, Co-director 1991-1992
- Ms. Mary H. Kujawski Roberts, 1988-1991 (formerly of the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois)
- Dr. Fred Woodard, 1987-88 (Acting Director)
- Dr. Robert Hobbs, 1983-1986 (former associate professor at Cornell University and former Chief Curator of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran).
- Dr. Bruce W. Chambers, 1980-1983 (former Chief Curator of the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York)
- Ms. Jan K. Muhlert, 1975-1979 (formerly a curator at the Smithsonian Institution, former director of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and current Director of the Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University)
- Mr. Ulfert Wilke, 1968-1975 (former professor at Rutgers University)(Associate Director was Mr. Gustave von Groschwitz, former director of the Carnegie Museum of Art)