History

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

History of the museum

Arizona State University exemplifies a new prototype for the American public research university. ASU’s charter states that it is measured not by whom we exclude, but rather by whom we include and how they succeed; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves. 

Arizona State University serves more than 70,000 students at 17 colleges and schools at four campuses across metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona. There are more than 100,000 online learners enrolled at ASU world-wide. The university takes great pride in the fact that 35% of the student population are first in their family to attend college and 50% are people of color. ASU is the largest public research university in the United States under a single administration and has been voted #1 in innovation every year since 2016 by U.S. News and World Report.

The ASU Art Museum is situated within the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, led by Dean Steven Tepper. Home to more than 6,000 students, the institute’s mission is to advance the New American University by embedding designers, artists and arts-based inquiry at its core and throughout the communities it serves locally, nationally and internationally. 

ASU Art Museum was founded in 1950 with a significant gift of American and Mexican masterpieces purchased by Oliver B. James. Over the course of five years, James donated close to 150 works of art, including paintings by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Diego Rivera. The James collection connected students and Arizona communities to masterpieces from around the world that previously could only be seen in larger metropolitan areas.

Guided by Director Rudy Turk (1965–1992), the museum continued to expand its collection with significant acquisitions in print, American craft and contemporary American ceramics. Turk was one of the first museum directors to champion prints and craft, which are often overlooked by institutions. He devoted significant resources and attention to these disciplines, making the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center one of the most important collections of contemporary ceramics in the country, and the Jules Heller Print Study Room a unique open-storage study collection for students and community alike. In April 1989, ASU Art Museum moved into Antoine Predock’s award-winning Nelson Fine Arts Center on the western edge of ASU’s Tempe campus. 

From 1992–2010, Director Marilyn A. Zeitlin brought an increased commitment to new art forms and ideas to better represent the communities of Arizona. Zeitlin sought to emphasize Latin American and Latinx artists and movements. Under her direction, ASU Art Museum was one of the first museums to present and acquire Cuban and Cuban diaspora art. 

Under the leadership of Director Gordon Knox from 2012–2017, ASU Art Museum’s physical presence expanded to the ASU Art Museum Ceramics Research Center in downtown Tempe’s Mill Avenue District. Knox was instrumental in producing new artistic commissions from contemporary artists from around the globe through the museum’s international artist residency program.

Celebrating its 70th year in 2019, the ASU Art Museum continues to expand its role in Phoenix and beyond as a premier university arts institution dedicated to the longstanding core values of innovation, inclusion and excellence. Director Miki Garcia’s leadership consolidates the museum’s historical efforts to center art and artists in the service of social good. Garcia’s vision is to re-imagine the museum as a community-embedded place that connects art, artists and audiences with today’s most pressing social issues. Today, ASU Art Museum strives to be a museum for all. Arte para todos.

ASU Art Museum’s greatest strengths:

Commissioning new and experimental work by mid-career artists and organizing early museum exhibitions for emerging artists.

20th century and contemporary ceramics, craft and prints and drawings.

Socially, politically and environmentally engaged work by regional and international artists.

Exhibitions focus on Latin American and Latinx artists.

The International Artist Residency provides intellectual support and physical space for artists to expand and re-envision their practice through collaboration with ASU students, faculty and Phoenix communities.