Ask David Brenneman why a $30 million renovation of the Eskenazi Museum of Art on the IU campus is necessary, and he’ll tell you it’s simply because buildings get old.
“Museums are basically these incredible preservation machines,” he said recently from his office on the third floor of the museum. “And like any machine, the parts get old, need to be replaced, need to be updated, and I’m simplifying, but that’s basically why buildings need to be renovated.”
Keep talking to him, though, and you’ll find there is another reason. It’s extraordinary for a small Midwestern town to have a museum with such an extensive collection.
“If we were in just about any Southern major city, we would be the major city art museum. We’d be the encyclopedic collection,” Brenneman said. “It’s hard to understand that, to grasp that, but I’m telling you it’s true.”
Before being appointed director of the Eskenazi Museum in 2015, Brenneman spent 13 years as a curator and director of collections and exhibitions at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the premier art museum in the southeastern United States.
He understands what it means to have original paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock in a city like Bloomington with fewer than 90,000 people. He also understands many people aren’t aware of the gems contained within the triangular concrete structure in the heart of Indiana University’s flagship campus.
“I think part of our challenge is no one knows what’s inside this building,” Brenneman said. “In a way, we’ve kind of made the building the main feature of who we are.”
The building is impressive.
It was designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei. Construction began in 1978 and after opening in stages, it was completed in 1982.