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 University of Iowa Museum of Art opened in 1969, although the art collections of the University of Iowa predate the museum 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 museum 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.
In June 2008, the museum 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 the collection before the floodwaters forced the closure of the building 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 museum 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 museum 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 museum began moving its collection to the Figge. In July, the museum finished its initial inventory of the objects.
Following the flood, about 200 objects needed some form of treatment by the conservators at Chicago Conservation Center. Nearly all have been cared for and are now in storage at the Figge. Collection objects already slated for conservation before the flood—mainly African objects—remained in Chicago to receive the treatment they required.
In August 2009, the museum opened a new on-campus art venue in the Iowa Memorial Union. The UIMA@IMU (now the Stanley Visual Classroom), 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 museum's permanent collections, selected specifically to meet classroom needs. Temporary and traveling exhibitions were hosted in the Black Box Theater on the third floor at the IMU until summer 2018.
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 to the Main Library. In June 2016 the Iowa Board of Regents gave permission for this plan to proceed, with schematic drawings and a budget for the new museum project approved in August 2017.
In the fall of 2017 Richard (Dick) and Mary Jo Stanley committed $10 million to support the building campaign for the University of Iowa Museum of Art. Following approval by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, the museum officially became the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art on April 1, 2018.
Please see our News page for up-to-date information on the building project.
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Chief executive officers of the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art since its founding in 1969:
- Dr. Lauren Lessing, Director, July 31, 2018–present
- Dr. Steve McGuire, Acting Director, April 10–July 30, 2018 (professor and director of the School of Art and Art History)
- Mr. James A. Leach, Interim Director, January 2017–April 9, 2018
- 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, Interim Director 1991–992, Acting Co-director 1990-1991 (with Fred Hubbard)
- Ms. Mary H. Kujawski Roberts, 1988–1991 (formerly of the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois)
- Dr. Fred Woodard, Acting Director, 1987–1988
- 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)