The Best University Art Museums in America

Whether they’re located at Ivy League universities, small liberal arts schools, or big state institutions, these exceptional museums alone are worth a college tour.
05/02/2017 01:48 pm ET Updated May 02, 2017

For Architectural Digest, by Elizabeth Stamp.

While we may not all get accepted into the country’s most elite universities, visiting the museums at these top schools may be just as good (and far less expensive than four years of tuition.) Colleges across the United States show off their impressive collections of everything from antiquities to contemporary art in equally striking buildings by architects such as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Michael Graves, and Cesar Pelli. Whether they’re located at Ivy League universities, small liberal arts schools, or big state institutions, these exceptional museums alone are worth a college tour.

Courtesy of the RISD Museum

RISD Museum, Providence, Rhode Island

Founded in 1877, the museum of the Rhode Island School of Design is composed of five buildings on the east side of Providence that date from 1893 to 2008, with the latest addition designed by architect Rafael Moneo. The institution’s impressive permanent collection features approximately 100,000 objects, from historic textiles to paintings by European masters to experimental video works. risdmuseum.org

Courtesy of the Michael C. Carlos Museum

Michael C. Carlos Museum, Atlanta

Emory University’s collection began in 1876 on the original campus in Oxford, Georgia, and the museum was officially founded in 1919 in Atlanta. Located in a postmodern building by architect Michael Graves, the institution is home to an extensive collection of art and artifacts from ancient times to present day, with particularly notable sections devoted to Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities. carlos.emory.edu

Courtesy of the Williams College Museum of Art

Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts

With an emphasis on modern and contemporary works, as well as American art from the late 18th century on, the Williams College Museum of Art is a repository of more than 14,000 pieces, including the world’s largest collection of works by Charles and Maurice Prendergast. The museum is housed in Lawrence Hall, originally built in 1846 as an octogonal library by Thomas Alexander Tefft and expanded in the 1980s by architect Charles Moore. wcma.williams.edu

Rik Sferra/Courtesy of the Weisman Art Museum

Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis

Located in a spectacular Frank Gehry building along the Mississippi River, the University of Minnesota’s Weisman Art Museum brings together over 20,000 works of art, including a breadth of traditional Korean furniture, American modernist art, and ceramics. The museum also offers a rental program that permits students, employees, and university departments to display select pieces from the collection in their homes or offices. wam.umn.edu

Courtesy of the Indiana University Art Museum

Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington, Indiana

The institution, which is set in a 1982 building by architect I. M. Pei, has an encyclopedic collection of more than 45,000 objects, from paintings by Monet and Picasso to a complete set of Marcel Duchamp’s 1964 “Readymades” to nearly 5,000 pieces of ancient jewelry. artmuseum.indiana.edu

Courtesy of the Allen Memorial Art Museum

Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio

Established in 1917, Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum is located in an Italian Renaissance building designed by architect Cass Gilbert. A gallery for modern and contemporary art by the firm Venturi, Rauch, and Scott Brown was added in 1977. The museum’s collection includes more than 14,000 objects, including Dutch and Flemish paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, Japanese woodblock prints, and modern landscape paintings by such artists as Cézanne, Monet, and Turners. The museum also oversees the Eva Hesse archives and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Weltzheimer/Johnson House. oberlin.edu/amam

Courtesy of the Saint Louis University Museum of Art

Saint Louis University Museum of Art, St. Louis

Though it was founded only 13 years ago, the institution has become well established, with a collection that features artists such as Kiki Smith, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Claes Oldenburg. The museum occupies a Beaux Arts building that was once home to the St. Louis club, and in keeping with the school’s Jesuit tradition, the third floor is dedicated to art and artifacts from western missions. slu.edu/sluma-home

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