The McMaster Museum of Art officially opened in its current location on June 11, 1994. The Museum houses McMaster University’s permanent collection of more than 6000 objects that encompass the history of art from the late 15th to the 21st century, and coins and antiquities from Mediterranean cultures and China.
It is recognized internationally for its specialist collection of early twentieth-century German prints and outstanding European paintings, drawings and prints, including a donation by Hamilton businessman Dr. Herman Herzog Levy O.B.E. of his own private collection. There are also significant holdings of Cape Dorset prints, sculptures and artifacts as well as a finely focussed collection of historical and contemporary Canadian art.
McMaster’s Art Collection dates back to the University’s earliest history, when it was situated in the present Royal Conservatory of Music building on Bloor Street in Toronto. With the University’s relocation to Hamilton in 1930, the place and status of art enjoyed a radical increase in emphasis.
During the 1960s and 1970s several McMaster faculty members contributed to the formulation of a coherent permanent collection at the University. As a result of their efforts, European prints and Canadian art were regularly added to the collection and their teaching philosophy, which valued the direct experience of original works of art,was embraced by the University. The first dedicated space for a gallery at McMaster University opened in 1967 and was administered by the Department of Art and Art History. Its opening coincided with the opening of the new Arts II Building (Togo Salmon Hall) and Fine Art studios.
In 1985 the special function of an art collection within the overall goals of the University was acknowledged at which time the McMaster University Art Gallery became an independent unit within the Faculty of Humanities. Late in 1988 the building of an appropriate facility became a priority within the University’s master plan and planning and program development was initiated. Subsequent to this, the Gallery became an autonomous unit within the University governed by the Administrative Board made up of University and community representatives.
Central to the transformation of the McMaster University Art Gallery to the McMaster Museum of Art has been a concerted effort focussed on collections development and education. It was decided that the University’s art collection should stress quality and the formal, stylistic and historical relationships among specific works and that the collection would be built selectively and with purpose. Acquisitions policies emphasize the relationship between the teaching of art, art history and other subject areas (especially within the Humanities) as well as broader concerns such as learning, research and public enjoyment. Within this context, three areas have been singled out for development — Canadian art, early 20th century German Expressionist art and modern and contemporary European art — and is directed by the Museum’s Acquisitions Committee.
In 1999, the University’s Board of Governors decided to name the Museum building in honour of President Emeritus Alvin A. Lee, one of the most influential supporters and champions of the University art collection. Dr. Lee’s commitment to the broad educational benefit that the experience of art can contribute to learning at a University directly contributed to the receipt of substantial gifts and the development and realization of the new Museum facility.
The McMaster Museum of Art is a meeting space for both the campus and the community situated within the traditional territories of the Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations. The Museum engages, educates and inspires through: growing an awareness of the interconnectivity of the past, present and future; advancing de-colonization; engaging in innovative and imaginative research; dismantling institutional and ideological boundaries; partnering and collaborating with intentionality; diversifying the collection; and building capacity.
The McMaster Museum of Art will positively disrupt the traditional museological narrative by creating more inclusive, dynamic and experiential relationships between peoples and artistic practices.
McMaster University sits on the traditional territories of the Mississauga and Haudenosaunee nations and within the lands protected by the Dish With One Spoon wampum agreement.
Meeting/Class Rooms are available at the McMaster Museum of Art and are free for University groups. They are available only during open Museum hours.