The best that civilization offers
At the dedication ceremony for this magnificent building in 1982, Indiana University’s 14th president, John Ryan, reflected on how the new art museum building would serve the IU community.
"A university," President Ryan said, "must be a balanced environment where human experience in all its aspects is collected, preserved, and transmitted to succeeding generations, and human potential nurtured: the mind, the body, and the spirit."
The IU Art Museum, President Ryan said, would be a place where members of the IU community and others would, in his words, "come together in community… and be exposed to the best that civilization offers in order to learn, to live with meaning and direction, and to stand in awe of life." 1
As we rededicate the museum during IU’s Bicentennial Year as the Indiana University Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, we celebrate a magnificent renovation of one of the premier university art museums in the world, a museum that will, in the decades to come, continue to fulfill the aims described by President Ryan as it exposes students, faculty, staff, and members of the community to the best that civilization offers.
A brief history of the Eskenazi Museum of Art
The IU Art Museum opened in 1941 in a gallery space in Mitchell Hall, a wooden classroom building located where Lindley Hall now stands. In its earliest years, the museum’s purpose was to bring temporary loan exhibitions to the Bloomington campus so that students could view and study original works of art.
Henry Radford Hope, then the chair of the School of Fine Arts, and IU’s tenth president, Herman B Wells, had a vision of developing the university’s own art collection. The two of them personally collected works of art from around the world that would later enrich the museum’s collections, and they inspired many donors to give major works of art as well as funds for the purchase of art. With the construction of the Fine Arts Building in 1962, the university had new gallery space to display the growing collection.
After Henry Hope’s retirement, Thomas Solley became the museum’s second director, and during the 18 years he led the museum, its collection grew from 4,000 works to 30,000. It soon became apparent that the Fine Arts Building was inadequate to house the museum’s growing collections and that IU needed a dedicated museum building. Solley—who was an architect in addition to being a renowned art historian, art collector, and philanthropist—spearheaded and oversaw the museum's move into the building where we are now gathered, a world-class art museum designed, as I mentioned, by I.M. Pei, an architectural genius of the 20th and 21st centuries.
And, of course, Heidi Gealt, who is with us today, led the museum with great distinction for 28 years until her retirement in 2015. She continued to grow and strengthen the museum’s collections and greatly expanded its education and outreach programs.
Today, the Eskenazi Museum is home to an acclaimed collection of works of art and other important artifacts from nearly every culture throughout history that has produced art. The museum’s acclaimed collection includes more than 45,000 objects from around the world, making it one of the largest art holdings of any American university art museum.
A legacy of generosity: Sid and Lois Eskenazi
There are many people to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude for helping make this magnificent renovation of the museum possible, but in thanking them, we must begin with the museum’s namesakes and greatest benefactors, Sidney and Lois Eskenazi.
Both Sid and Lois are IU graduates. In 1963, Sid founded the highly successful real estate business, Sandor Development Company.
The Eskenazis are also, of course, among Indiana’s greatest philanthropic leaders.
They are renowned for their historic gift—the largest ever to a public hospital in the United States—that led to the construction of the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital and Eskenazi Health campuses in Indianapolis.
Over the years, of course, they have also been great supporters of Indiana University. Their support for IU dates back to 1970, when Sid established a scholarship fund. Since then, hundreds of students have benefited vitally from scholarship aid funded by the Eskenazis. Sid and Lois have also generously supported the arts and art students through their support of IU’s Herron School of Art and Design on the Indianapolis campus. The home of the Herron school, Eskenazi Hall, is, of course, named in their honor.
In addition to their generous $15 million gift that helped make the renovation of the Art Museum possible, the Eskenazis also donated to the museum a collection of nearly 100 works of art, consisting primarily of lithographs by 20th century European and American masters, which they painstakingly and lovingly collected over many years.
And this afternoon, we will celebrate the naming of the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, in recognition of their generous gift of $20 million to the school, which we announced in April of this year. It is the largest gift in the history of the school, and it will support student scholarships, faculty development, and the construction of a new building for the school based on a design created for IU in the 1950s by the legendary architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the founders of modern architecture.
On behalf of Indiana University, I want to offer our most sincere thanks to Sidney and Lois Eskenazi for their extraordinary generous gift for the much-needed renovation and restoration of this magnificent building, and also for the gift of their own superb art collection.
All of us are profoundly grateful for their generosity, which will touch the lives of countless students, faculty, staff, and community members. It will strengthen the standing of Indiana University’s art museum as an invaluable cultural resource, not just for Bloomington, but for the state and the region.
In addition, I want to extend thanks on behalf of Indiana University to all those who have supported the IU Art Museum over many years, including many of you who are here this morning.
I also want to commend Provost Lauren Robel as well as museum director David Brenneman and the staff of the museum for all they have done to help us reach this day.
Of course, even a building designed by a magnificent architect like I.M. Pei requires improvement and renovation over time, and so I want to commend architects Susie Rodriguez and Jonathan Hess for their superb and thoughtful work in reimagining the museum. I also want to commend all of the design and construction professionals, both internal and external, who contributed to the renovation we dedicate today.
At the 1982 dedication of this magnificent building, to which I referred earlier, then-President John Ryan also expressed the hope that visitors to the museum would draw from it, in his words, "stimulation of their own creativity, greater understanding and serenity, and renewed commitment to the values of Indiana University, expressed in the motto emblazoned on the Great Seal, Lux et Veritas, Light and Truth."2
In the years to come, the Eskenazi Museum of Art will continue to make these and still greater contributions as it once again takes its place among IU’s internationally renowned programs in the arts and humanities and shares its incomparable treasures with the world.
- John W. Ryan, Remarks delivered at the dedication of the IU Art Museum, October 13, 1982, IU Archives.