UA Museum of Art collection is priceless

A glimpse at the exhibit containing artwork by Erin Currier entitled, “La Frontera.” This art references the borders one must confront in pursuit of this dream: the physical US Mexico Border and its Mediterranean counterpart, according to Currier. (Photo by Kylie Warren/Arizona Sonora News)


In a building that can take you around the world and through time within hours, the permanent collection of the University of Arizona Museum of Art Archive of Visual Arts strategically begins to build one-of-a-kind exhibitions each year.

The UA Museum of Art is the permanent home to over 6,000 pieces, from paintings, photographs, sculptures, and more. This does not include the archive collection, which consists of letters, papers, sketchbooks, and other things that were a part of the artistic process.

With the permanent collection, the archive collection, and pieces on loan, the creation of the exhibitions begins.

The first exhibition occurred in 1924; created by UA professor Katherine Kitt, who is also the founder of the UA Art Department. That year, C. Leonard Pfeiffer promised to give his art collection to UA, and from there, the collection continued to grow with pieces from the Renaissance to pieces from current UA professors.

Olivia Miller is the Curator of Exhibitions and Education at the UA Museum of Art. She works on selecting artwork that is going to be on display, conducting research on the piece, and writing labels describing them for visitors.

“We are the museum we are because of our collection, and we always try to get the work out on view,” Miller said.

Miller said certain pieces or entire exhibits travel to other museums out on loan. When these pieces are gone, she has to continuously think of how to put together exhibits for the UA’s collection. There are also times that UA receives pieces on loan.

Last year, the museum had a Rome exhibit, which contained pieces mostly from their permanent collection, as well as pieces on loan from UA’s Center for Creative Photography, the UA Special Collections and the Yale Center for British Art.

All pieces in the permanent collection were collected in one of three ways. Because the museum receives zero state funds to maintain their collection, all the pieces were donated for the collection, money was donated to purchase pieces, or they were transferred from other departments. These transfers occur because the art was donated to a department on campus, but was then given to the museum because of space or other concerns

The museum does not charge students for admission, which allows the museum to act as an educational tool through the pieces it has to offer.

“Faculty need to know what they can teach with, so knowing that there are collections and individual works they can use in their curricula is essential,” said Jill Hartz, President Emerita of Association of Academic Museums and Galleries.

Hartz said that university museums have collections that benefit students, artists, collectors, schools, members and tourists. These groups help with the financial sustainability of the museum.

One exhibit currently on display entitled “La Frontera” is artwork by Erin Currier and depicts “the borders one must confront in pursuit of this dream: the physical US Mexico Border and its Mediterranean counterpart,” according to the UA Museum of Art’s website. 

This is a part of the 26 piece altar piece by Ciudad Rodrigo. These pieces date back to 15th Century Spain. (Photo by Kylie Warren/Arizona Sonora News)

One of the biggest art collection donations at UA came from Edward Joseph Gallagher, Jr. This collection came as a tribute to his son and was given to UA because of his connection with Tombstone, according to the museum’s website. He was said to have spent a lot of time at the Wide Lightning Ranch growing up and that is why he fell in love with Arizona.

The Gallagher, Jr. donation is one piece of the entire museum and Miller has the difficult task of deciding which pieces are on display. Contributing factors include the requirements from specific donations, popularity, what is out on loan, or the specifically created exhibitions. Thus, the attempt to rotate the permanent collection is kept it mind.

“I always keep that in mind when I curate an exhibition,” Miller said, “and I weigh the decisions. Which pieces are really meaningful to the show? Which pieces have not been on display in a really long time? Which pieces will the public enjoy or make them think in a different way?”

Miller said that most of their renaissance work that was accepted in the 1960’s has a requirement from the donation that it must always be on display. Other pieces, like one of their most popular pieces, “Red Canna” by Georgia O’Keefe, is on display a lot because people come from all over to see that specific piece.

“Red Canna” by Georgia O’Keefe is one of the most popular pieces in the University of Arizona Museum of Art. The museum said this is the piece that is asked the most for publication rights for. (Photo by Kylie Warren/Arizona Sonora News)

“That is the most requested painting for reproduction requests,” Miller said. “People from all around contact us to get the rights to publish it in a book or to print on notecards or calendars.”

Other notable pieces in the UA Museum of Art’s collection include “Woman-Ochre” by William de Kooning, which received recent fame for being a million-dollar piece that was stolen and recovered after 31 years, and a 26 panel altar piece from 15th century Spain by Ciudad Rodrigo, which is notable because of its resilience through time.


Kylie Warren is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at


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