Founded in 1950, ASU Art Museum has grown over the years to become a leading contemporary art museum

History of the museum

ASU Art Museum was founded in 1950 with a significant gift of American, Mexican and European artworks purchased by Oliver B. James, a prominent local lawyer. James donated close to 150 works of art over five-years. The art collection originally was installed in the lobby, hallways and offices of Matthews Library. When the new Hayden Library was completed in 1965, the books were removed and the art remained.

By 1978 the museum occupied the entire second floor of the Matthews Center with 10,000 square feet of exhibition space. Guided by Director Rudy Turk, the museum continued to expand with significant acquisitions in prints and American craft. The ceramics collection increased dramatically in 1977 when a National Endowment for the Arts matching grant was awarded to the museum for the purchase of contemporary American ceramics. Ongoing gifts by collectors and supporters in American and British ceramics have significantly enhanced the collection, and the museum now boasts one of the largest 20th century and contemporary ceramic collections in the United States.

In April 1989, ASU Art Museum moved into Antoine Predock's award-winning Nelson Fine Arts Center on the western edge of the Tempe campus. This facility now includes five expansive galleries and three sculpture courts, collections management and storage, a conservation workspace, museum store, classroom and administrative offices.

Beginning in 1992, director Marilyn A. Zeitlin brought an increased commitment to new art forms and ideas, and significant contributions to the international dialog on contemporary art with exhibitions, publications and collections. In 1995, ASU Art Museum presented the exhibition, Bill Viola: Buried Secrets, in the U.S. Pavilion at the 100th anniversary of the Venice Biennale. The Biennale has been described as the Olympics of the art world and features exhibitions of work by artists from over 60 countries. Zeitlin was chosen to be the Commissioner of the U.S. Pavilion and curated the exhibition by this internationally-renowned video artist. When the exhibition returned to Tempe, it was the first major exhibition of video art in Arizona.

Under the leadership of director Gordon Knox, ASU Art Museum's collection grew to include more than 12,000 objects, and the museum's physical presence expanded to three locations across Metro Phoenix. The ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center moved to a new location in 2002 in downtown Tempe's Mill Avenue District, and the ASU Art Museum Project Space at Combine Studios opened in 2011 in downtown Phoenix's Roosevelt Row Arts District, hosting the museum's Artist Residency program, highlighting multidisciplinary artist-led projects and commissions in partnership with diverse community organizations throughout Phoenix and the Arizona Southwest region. Project Space closed in 2018, but the Artist Residency continues.

With current director Miki Garcia, ASU Art Museum continues to pursue collaborative, research-based projects, which affirm the role of art and artists as central to our understanding of the world and ability to envision the future.