When students currently enrolled at Duke University look at the Nasher Museum, they see a building that has been at Duke longer than they have. The museum is a staple and, much like any other building down Campus Drive, it is a permanent fixture that one passes on the bus to and from classes. One could try to imagine Campus Drive without the Nasher Museum’s white facade, because there was a time in the not too distant past when the building was not there.
The Nasher Musueum, which first opened in 2005, was designed by architect Rafael Viñoly who describes the building as “platonic boxes….covered by a light canopy of glass and steel.”
While the building is a work of art in and of itself, the artwork that filled the space in 2005 for the debut exhibition, The Evolution of the Nasher Collection, did not just appear when the building was erected. Indeed, the Duke University Museum of Art (DUMA) was its former home. DUMA was located on East Campus, housed in the Friedl Building, where the Cultural Anthropology Department now resides. In 1969, the building was remodeled from the Women’s College Faculty Apartments and Science classrooms to house the little museum that could.
It was here, at DUMA, that the foundations of the Pre-Columbian and Art of the Americas Collections took shape. The Old Masters had residency too, with Old Masters Drawings from the Collection of Joseph F. McCrindle (11/6/1992-1/3/1993). The Nasher Museum still draws from the humble origins at DUMA, but, inside the platonic boxes, curatorial and spatial scopes have changed. One needs only to look at El Greco to Velazquez: Art during the reign of Phillip III, The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl and Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore, to name a few, to understand the breadth and depth of these changes.
The Nasher Museums is now known for its role as a contemporary institution, with more new, fresh names entering the doors and installing their pieces on the walls, floors and even ceilings. DUMA laid the groundwork for some of these aspirations, too. Several exhibitions in the ‘90s boasted household names in the contemporary art community, including Jackson Pollock (Psychoanalytic Drawing: 1/31/1992-3/29/1992) and Andy Warhol (The Politics of Pop: 1/22/1993-3/12/1993). The little museum was not so little in content.
While DUMA no longer exists, it is worthy of reference because it was the foundation for the Nasher Museum, not only by fostering relationships with donors who would later contribute to the current state of the museum, but also highlighting Duke University, this massive research institution, as a place for the arts.