Krannert Art Museum (KAM) is the second largest general fine art museum in the state of Illinois and operates within the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Significant support from alumni, donors, and museum members have enabled KAM to develop an encyclopedic permanent collection of more than 10,000 artworks from the 4th century BCE to the present.
Krannert Art Museum is a catalyst at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and in the extended community to support interdisciplinary collaboration and the synthesis of knowledge for the benefit of current and future generations.
The museum is a cultural destination and a virtual presence that strives to enrich the human experience by inviting visitors to make connections through the visual arts between the past and present, between what is understood and what is unknown.
The museum fulfills its mission by:
The Museum was designed by architect Ambrose Richardson in a style reminiscent of the late work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. A notable feature of the front façade is the brise soleil. For many, this decorative screen is a defining characteristic of the museum. Originally, Krannert Art Museum also featured a reflecting pool as can be seen in the artist's architectural rendering, which served as the cover art for the original Krannert Art Museum Dedication Program in May 1961.
The design architects for the original building were Richardson, Severns, Scheeler and Associates. The Architects—Engineers were Mittelbusher and Tourtelot. The university architect was Ernest L. Stouffer, and the general contractor for the project was Kuhne-Simmons Company, Inc.
An addition to the original museum was completed in 1988. This addition, the Kinkead Pavilion, was the creation of architect Larry Booth and Associates. The building incorporates neo-Egyptian decorative elements in an overall post-Modernist design.
The 1988 dedication of the Kinkead Pavilion nearly doubled the building's size to 63,000 square feet, making Krannert Art Museum the second largest general fine art museum in the state of Illinois. The Sixth Street Kinkead Pavilion entrance to the museum is fully accessible, helping KAM to open its doors to visitors of all abilities.
Cecil V. Donovan (1961–1964)
Allen S. Weller (1965–1974), concurrently Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts
Muriel B. Christison (1975–1982)
Stephen Prokopoff (1983–1991)
Theodore "Ted" Zernich (Interim/Acting Director, 1992–1994)
Maarten van de Gutche (1995–2000)
Josef Helfenstein (2001–2004)
Kathleen Harleman (2004–2017)
University Fine Arts Gallery, housed in University Hall on the Illinois Campus, opened to the public to present the art collections of the university by John Milton Gregory, who served as its first regent from 1867-1880. Some of these works had been hand-selected by Gregory during his travels to Europe, purchased to form the basis of the university art collection.
The School of Industrial Art and Design was founded to offer elective courses to undergraduate students at the university in order to provide an education that included arts and culture, an innovation to the land-grant university mission. This was part of a comprehensive effort by Gregory to introduce the visual arts as a teachable discipline worthy of inclusion in a university-level education.
The College of Fine and Applied Arts was founded, and significant funds were appropriated for investment in contemporary painting and sculpture for the university art collection. These collections would be displayed in the Architecture Building, which had been constructed in the mid-1920s.
The university art collection continued to grow through the gifts of paintings donated by the Trees Family. Merle J. Trees and his wife Emily Nichols Trees, alumni of the university, gave to their alma mater 41 objects—works by renowned European and North American artists, including Frans Hals, John Singleton Copley, and Camille Pissarro.
The university was allocated 35 new paintings and 450 drawings from the New Deal Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project. The university also acquired the contents of the Chicago studio of sculptor Lorado Taft, an alumnus of the University. Taft’s collection is currently housed in various indoor and outdoor locations on campus, including both Spurlock Museum and Krannert Art Museum.
The Festival of Contemporary Arts in the spring semester of 1948 included the first Contemporary American Painting Exhibition, which brought national attention to the University of Illinois. These annual juried exhibitions brought together exceptional contemporary artists of the period, and from them the museum selected artwork to add to the permanent collection.
By the 1950s, there was broad agreement that the university’s growing collection of art needed a permanent home. Professor Cecil V. Donovan and Dean Allen S. Weller led a campaign to create a permanent, world-class art museum on campus. Herman Krannert, 1912 alumnus, and his wife Ellnora stepped forward to provide funding to make the project a reality. Donovan agreed to serve as the first Krannert Art Museum director from the project's inception until 1964.
Krannert Art Museum was designed by architect Ambrose Richardson and completed in 1961. The modernist building is reminiscent of the late work of Ludwig Mies van de Rohe. Krannert Art Museum not only provides a home for the ever-growing permanent art collection, but also serves as a temporary exhibition space for curated art exhibitions.
The Krannert Art Museum Council was formed to assist with educational and fundraising activities and programs. This important group of area art enthusiasts, patrons, and collectors continues to contribute to the life of Krannert Art Museum and celebrated their 50th year of service in 2015.
Krannert Art Museum expanded 17,800 square feet with the construction of the East Gallery, an endeavor funded through an additional gift by Herman and Ellnora Krannert.
As the collection continued to grow and as teaching in the visual arts and in art education blossomed at the university, another expansion was needed. The estate of William S. Kinkead, a mechanical engineering student at Illinois from 1919 to 1920, provided monies for the construction of the William S. and Anita H. Kinkead Pavilion. Under construction from 1986-1988, the Kinkead Pavilion nearly doubled the size of the museum, furnishing 20,000 additional square feet for exhibiting the collections and providing an office area for administrative and curatorial activities.
The Kinkead Pavilion was dedicated in 1988 and includes a large, enclosed glass entry, the Kinkead gallery, Bow Gallery, Trees Gallery, Arts of Peru Gallery, and classroom studio spaces on the lower level of the museum. It provides accessibility to visitors of all levels of mobility and includes automatic doors and elevator access to all levels.
Krannert Art Museum makes history of another kind—not related to the physical building or art collection, but by opening access to the collection in digital space by creating the first art museum website in the United States. This innovation helped to communicate information about the museum's holdings, activities, and research to populations beyond Illinois, and was in keeping with the reputation of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a center of technological innovation.
Krannert Art Museum engages in a decade of aggressive acquisitions from the exhibitions it organizes. Artists whose work enriches the collection include Conrad Bakker, Amy Barkow, Louise Bourgeois, Charles and Ray Eames, Jackie Ferrara, Laurie Hogin, Huang Yan, Annette Lemieux, Jacques Lipchitz, Jennifer Maestre, John McCracken, Luke Batten and Jonathan Sadler (New Catalogue), Kenneth Noland, Richard Pettibone, Julia Scher, Hedda Sterne, David Svensson, Tony Tasset, and Zhao Bandi.
In celebration of its 50th year, Krannert Art Museum underwent renovations and hosted a major exhibition At Fifty: Krannert Art Museum, 1961–2011, guest curated by Michael Rush. In a unique, interactive architectural space, sculpture, painting, video, photography, decorative objects, and drawings co-mingle. Objects from ancient Greece and Latin America were in dialogue with nineteenth century European paintings and twentieth century video; realism sat astride abstraction; photography and drawings illustrated how artists have represented humanity for more than a century. Removing traditional hierarchies allowed the works to speak to each other and to viewers across time. A selection of artists included: John Singleton Copley, Gustave Courbet, Walker Evans, Jasper Johns, Isoda Koryusai, Barbara Kruger, Edouard Manet, Mark Rothko, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, Carrie Mae Weems, Edward Weston, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
KAM opened its newly designed gallery devoted to the arts of Africa, welcoming visitors to a completely renovated space with a new interpretive framework, casework, lighting, layout, and entranceways into the gallery. The thematically organized installation was inspired by the idea that objects can “tell” multiple stories, not only about themselves but also about the broader social contexts and often fraught global histories through which they have journeyed. Indeed, as a 21st century museum, KAM is committed to raising awareness about the “life histories” of African artworks, as well as the museum’s role in shaping our understanding of those histories.
The following year Krannert Art Museum received an Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) Award for Excellence for this permanent collection installation, titled Encounters: The Arts of Africa.
Krannert Art Museum began a multi-year commitment to transform galleries and other public spaces. The renovation of four main floor galleries, with the goal to significantly enhance visitor experiences in both temporary and permanent collection galleries and gathering spaces like the lobby and classrooms, was made possible by lead gifts from Museum Director Kathleen Harleman, Joan and Peter Hood, Jon and Judith Liebman, Richard and Rosann Noel, and Virginia B. Webster, as well as major gifts from additional donors. Significant gifts of artwork and acquisition funds to further develop the museum’s permanent collection were given by Robert and Sonia Carringer, Len Lewicki, Iver M. Nelson, Jr., and Richard and Rosann Noel as part of this effort.
KAM installed LED lighting in each renovated gallery. Financial support for this upgrade was provided by a grant from the Student Sustainability Committee and is a part of the campus-wide effort to reduce energy usage and promote environmental sustainability.