ArtSmart Roundtable: University Art Galleries

detail Yale University Art Gallery

When you think of seeing art on a trip in the United States, it's easiest to gravitate towards the most well known museums in large cities. However, there are lots of opportunities to enjoy art in excellent musuems, in lesser-known places. One great place to look at art are at any of the American universities across the country. Universities have both the resources and benefactors to help foster an environment for collecting and displaying a significant collection of art. Further, the university setting puts an emphasis on learning from art, as well as about art. It makes for a unique museum experience. Almost every university has an art collection of some sorts, including these four university art museums of note in the United States.

Yale University Art Gallery
yale university art gallery kahn

In December 2012, Yale University Art Gallery unveiled a renovation allowing them to display over 4000 objects, from their impressive collection that spans from ancient times through today. The breadth of their collection alone rivals much larger institutions, but they also have works from prominent artists from many periods. The buildings that display the artwork are themselves architecturally significant, spanning over 150 years of building in America from the gallery's original 19th century Neoclassical home to the 1953 masterpiece by American architect, Louis Kahn (pictured above.)

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University
 Nasher Museum of Art Duke University
Image: Dan Mills.

Duke University in Durham, North Carolina reinvented their art museum, the Nasher Museum of Art in 2005, with a brand new building, designed by architect Rafael Viñoly. Their collection is particularly strong in Medieval art, pre-Columbian, classical Antiquities, as well as contemporary art. The museum also shows traveling exhibits, and right now is displaying a show of Matisse works from the Baltimore Museum of Art. North Carolina is home to many varied things and you can now add an outstanding art collection to the list.

Museum of Art, RISD
RISD Museum of Art
Image: RISD Museum.

It makes perfect sense that the Rhode Island School of Design would house an art museum and its inception began as the school itself began in the mid-19th century. Today, the collection with over 80,000 works of art spans the decorative arts, painting, prints and even textiles. In addition to this collection, temporary exhibits are also a draw to RISD. In 2013, the museum will display a show dedicated to men's fashion, a show exploring the history of the list with items from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, as well as a show Locally Made featuring the work of Providence artists.

Hammer Museum, UCLA
Artist in Residence Hammer Museum UCLA

The Hammer Museum is operated by UCLA, but its beginnings come from philanthropist, Armand Hammer, wanting to display his extensive collection of Old Master paintings and Daumier prints. After his death, shortly after the museum opened, an agreement was reached for the University to take over and steward his collection, as well as their own. In addition to Hammer's personal collection, the museum is home to over 45,000 prints and works on paper, and also hosts a strong artist-in-residency program, pictured above.

It seems that almost every university has an art collection of some sorts. Whether it's their uniquely local slant, an expansive collection, or a collection inherited by a collector's obsession, university museums offer many reasons to stop by for a visit. With many charging no admission, you've really got no excuse to not pop in the next time you're in a university town. I've begun to compile a map of museums and galleries below, feel free to add to the list and help others find a new place to go see art!

View University Art Museums in a larger map

Art Smart
Art Smart is a virtual roundtable discussion with other bloggers who love exactly what I do, art and travel. This month's topic is unknown museums. To find more unique museums to seek out on your next trip, check out these posts or head over to our facebook page to keep up with Art Smart Travel all the time.
Daydream Tourist: The Copley Library Galleries
EuroTravelogue: The Stibbert Museum in Florence, Italy
Culture Tripper: Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
This is My Happiness: Palazzo Strozzi: The Coolest Museum You've Never Heard Of
Career Girl Travels: The Museum of London


I wish my college had galleries like these! How wonderful it must be to have all of this at the disposal of the students! I would have never thought that universities offered so much but thanks to you, I do now!

That's a great point, Kelly! There are some tremendous collections out there. One I'd like to see is the Armand Hammer collection at UCLA. They have Sargent's spectacular portrait of Dr. Pozzi at Home (1881)