The Monash University Collection was inaugurated in 1961 with the foundation of the University. Louis Matheson, the University’s first Vice Chancellor, established an annual acquisition fund for the purchase of artworks by living Australian artists. A group of academic faculty members at the Clayton campus were given an annual allowance of five hundred pounds to purchase art for the Collection with a view to exhibiting it throughout the Monash University campus and enriching the cultural life of the institution for students and staff.
The decision to embellish campus life with an art collection was made alongside a commitment to plant only native flora across the campus. Interestingly, both the collecting and planting policies were proposed by Foundation Professor of Zoology and Comparative Physiology, Jock Marshall. They were part of a conscious effort to reimagine the modern Australian university.
By 1968 the University had hired its first part-time curator, John Waterhouse, and its first curatorial adviser, Patrick McCaughey, who was then a young graduate of the University of Melbourne, a Teaching Fellow in the Monash English Department and art critic at The Agenewspaper. In March 1975 then-Foundation Professor of Visual Arts, McCaughey established an exhibition space, Monash University Gallery, on the seventh floor of the Menzies Building with the first full-time Collection curator, Grazia Gunn. In 1975 McCaughey also initiated an artist-in-residence Program with funding from the Visual Arts Board of the newly formed Australia Council and the Ian Potter Foundation. In the first three years following its inception, the Gallery hosted artists such as Peter Tyndall, John Davis, Lesley Dumbrell, and John Walker through this program. All participated in the teaching program of the newly formed Visual Arts department and many made works during their residencies that eventually entered into the Collection.
In 1987 the Gallery moved from the Menzies Building to the Multi-Discipline Centre, which became known as the Gallery Building. In 1989, Jenepher Duncan became the Director of the Gallery and remained in that position until 2003, by which time it had become known, in 2002, as Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA). Simultaneously, Duncan worked as the Director of Melbourne’s Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (between 1991 and 2001), which was then an affiliated institution of the University.
In 2010 MUMA relocated to Monash University’s Caulfield campus, which is closer to the city and is where the Art Design and Architecture department is located. The museum director at the time, Max Delany, envisaged opportunities for collaboration between the art school and the museum. Kerstin Thompson Architects won the competition for the design of the museum, which entailed re-modelling the interior of the ground floor of the existing Building F, originally used for the Victorian government’s Public Works Department.
Today MUMA is renowned for staging ambitious exhibitions of contemporary art by both Australian and international artists and curators. In addition to presenting thematic survey exhibitions and significant solo projects, MUMA commissions temporary public artworks in its Ian Potter Sculpture Court, and permanent public artworks across Monash University’s campuses. MUMA also delivers a diverse array of public programs – ranging from our Boiler Room Lecture series to Sound Spaces, a curated program of experimental music performances in the gallery.