As MIT’s contemporary art museum, the List Center’s history is deeply connected to the Institute’s long-standing commitment to supporting the arts and humanities on campus.

The establishment of the Hayden Gallery in 1950 brought numerous artists into contact with the MIT community through robust and diverse exhibitions and artist residencies, setting the stage for the formal creation of the List Center in 1985. Since then, the List has continued to build on this legacy. The following timeline provides a succinct look at some of these milestones. In addition to this timeline, we encourage you to explore our exhibition archive, which dates back to 1985, for a further look at artists who’ve exhibited at the Center.

Early Years

1950 The Hayden Gallery opens and becomes the first contemporary visual arts center on MIT’s campus. In 1985, the gallery was formally renamed and established as the List Visual Arts Center.

1951 Standard Oil donates twenty-six works of art to MIT. This initial gift forms the cornerstone of the Permanent Collection.

Graphic image featuring an oil company plant and a blue sky.

Thomas Hart Benton, Fluid Catalytic Crackers, 1945, Gift of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, 1951.001

1959 Catherine (Kay) N. Stratton co-founds the Friends of the Arts (which evolved into the Art Committee in 1960).

1960 The Longview Foundation provides seed funding to establish MIT’s Permanent Art Collection.

1961 MIT’s first public sculpture, Dimitri Hadzi’s Elmo, was commissioned (funded by Samuel Marx, Class of 1907).


Black and white image of Catherine (Kay) N. Stratton with her arm propped up on a hand rail.

Catherine N. “Kay” Stratton Photo: Morse Photography

1965 Alexander Calder’s La Grande Voile (The Great Sail) is sited on MIT’s campus. A gift of Eugene and Margaret McDermott, Calder’s commission further establishes a foundation for the development of the Institute’s campus-wide Public Art Collection.

Black and white photo of three people standing in front of a steel sculpture by Alexander Calder.

Eugene and Margaret McDermott with Alexander Calder in front of “La Grande Voile (The Big Sail),” 1965.

1966 Kay Stratton donates a selection of artwork, which sets the stage for what later becomes the Student Lending Art Collection.

1968 MIT establishes a Percent-for-Art Program. Today, this program administered by the List Visual Arts Center allocates up to $500,000 to commission art for each new major renovation or campus building construction project.

1972 With the support of MIT President Jerome Wiesner (1971–1980), the MIT Art Committee formally becomes the MIT Council for the Arts. An advisory committee is named to investigate the possibilities for the establishment of a new arts and media building.

Two visitors look at artwork in frames during the Student Lending Art Program at the MIT List Visual Arts Center.

Installation view: Student Lending Art Program 2019 at MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, 2019.

1977 MIT President Jerome Wiesner, along with Albert (Abe) and Vera List begin discussing the funding of a world-class gallery at MIT. I. M. Pei (Class of 1940) is chosen to work on the commission.

The List Student Loan Program was established in 1977 with a gift of eighty-seven framed prints and posters from the Albert and Vera List Collection. The Catherine N. Stratton Collection of Graphic Art was established in tribute to Mrs. Julius Stratton, wife of MIT’s eleventh president, for her work in developing and enriching the visual arts activities at MIT.

Black and white image of I.M. Pei and Scott Burton look over a model of the List Center building

I.M. Pei (left) discussing the Wiesner Building with sculptor Scott Burton.

1978 The MIT Committee on the Visual Arts sponsors an exhibition and loan program of framed posters and prints from the List Student Loan Program and the Catherine N. Stratton Collection of Graphic Art. More than one hundred posters and prints are made available for loan to full-time registered MIT students.

I. M. Pei proposes designing one building complex for arts and media-based research. The plan for the future gallery is combined with President Wiesner and Nicholas Negroponte’s fledgling plan to create what John de Monchaux, Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning, coined as the Media Lab.

The Wiesner Building photographed from across Ames Street on MIT campus

I.M. Pei, Wiesner Building, 1985. Photo by Chuck Mayer Photography.


Establishment of the MIT List Visual Arts Center

1985 Kathy Halbreich, director of the Hayden Gallery of Contemporary Art (1976–1986), works with I. M. Pei to use Percent-for-Art Funds to commission Scott Burton, Richard Fleischner, and Kenneth Noland to create new work for the Wiesner Building Project. Pei collaborated with Burton on the curving concrete benches on the plaza level of the atrium, (Settee, Bench, and Balustrade) and (Granite Bench) (1985); with Fleischner on the plaza surrounding the building, (Upper Courtyard) (1985); and with Noland on the surface of both the interior and exterior of the building (Here-There) (1985).

In October 1985, the Wiesner Building was formally dedicated and opened to the MIT community and public. Named after Jerome Wiesner and his wife Layla, the Wiesner Building was originally the home to the List Visual Arts Center and the Media Lab.

Black and white mage of a shiny, granite, semicircle shaped bench.

Scott Burton, Settee, Bench, and Balustrade, 1985. Commissioned with MIT Percent-for-Art funds. © 2022 Estate of Scott Burton/ Artist Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Steve Rosenthal.

1986 Kathy Halbreich is officially named as first director of the List Visual Arts Center, having previously programmed exhibitions and artist residency projects for the Hayden Gallery. Halbreich later went on to serve as director of the Walker Art Center, 1991; associate director at the Museum of Modern Art, 2008; and is currently executive director of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

1987 Katy Kline becomes second director (1987–1998).

1990 The Max Wasserman Forum Contemporary Art is established in memory of Max Wasserman (MIT Class of 1935), a founding member of the Council of the Arts at MIT. This public forum, a biannual symposium on critical issues in contemporary art and culture, features renowned artists, academics, researchers, and arts professionals.

Three people sit at a table at the MIT List Center Wasserman Forum.

Image of panel at the 2008 Wasserman Forum.

1993 The American Alliance of Museums accredited the List in 1993 and then again in 2004, and 2016.

1999 Jane Farver becomes third director (1999–2011). 

The List presents Ann Hamilton: Myein at the United States Pavilion, 48th Venice Biennale. The exhibition was organized by former List director Katy Kline and former List curator Helaine Posner.

Installation view of Myelin in front of a building with columns.

Installation view, myein, The United States Pavilion, 48th Venice Biennale, June 13, 1999 - November 7, Venice, Italy

2003 The List Center presented Fred Wilson: Speak of Me as I Am at the United States Pavilion for the 50th Venice Biennale. The exhibition was curated by Kathy Goncharov.

The List Center presented Paul Pfeiffer at the 2003 Cairo Biennale and the Melina Mecouri Center in Athens, Greece, during the 2004 Summer Olympics.

From 2003–10, as MIT’s campus grew, the List Center administered numerous Percent-for-Art projects, commissioning new work by artists such as Dan GrahamCai Guo-Qiang,  Anish Kapoor,  Sol LeWittMatthew RitchieSarah Sze, and Lawrence Weiner.

Black chandelier hangs in a yellow domed room with a star shape on the tile floor.

Installation view, Fred Wilson: “Speak of Me as I Am,” The United States Pavilion 50th Venice Biennale, June 15, 2003 - November 2, 2003, Venice, Italy.

2011 In conjunction with MIT’s Centennial, the List Center presented Stan VanDerBeek: The Culture IntercomJuan Downey: The Invisible Architect; Hans Haacke 1967; and Otto Piene: Lichtballett. This series of exhibitions featured artists who had a historic affiliation with MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies.

2012 Paul Ha becomes fourth director.

Installation in a dark room filled with mirrored balls.

Installation view, Otto Piene: Lichtballett, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2011

2013 An online audio guide is developed to provide commentary by artists, architects, scholars, and curators, focusing on sixty-plus works of art and architecture located throughout the Institute’s campus. Leonard Nimoy voices the audio guide introduction.

The List Projects exhibition series is launched to present a focused look at the work of emerging artists. Since its inception, this initiative has featured solo exhibitions by artists Gabriel AbrantesFarah Al QasimiAndrea CrespoRami GeorgeDelia GonzalezGordon HallAnn HirschKen OkishiKambui Olujimi, and Adam Pendleton, among many others. 

3 framed color photographs and wall text greet visitors at the exhibition entry gallery.

Installation view, List Projects: Farah Al Qasimi, MIT List Visual Arts Center, 2019. Photo: Charles Mayer.

2015 The MIT List Visual Arts Center presents Joan Jonas, They Come to Us without a Word, at the United States Pavilion for the 56th Venice Biennale. The exhibition was curated by List Center director Paul Ha, commissioner for the project; and Ute Meta Bauer, director of the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore; founding director of the Program in Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT) at MIT.

The List Center collaborates with the Boston Greenway Conservancy to commission Lawrence Weiner to create a public art mural project for downtown Boston.

Installation view featuring a large screen in the center of the room playing a video and red, blue, and green shapes hanging from the ceiling.

Installation view, “They Come To Us without a Word,” 56th Venice Biennale, May 9, 2015 - November 22, 2015, Venice Italy; Photo: Moria Ricci

2017 A contemporary art tour guide program led by MIT students is inaugurated. The Student Guide Program provides campus tours of MIT’s Public Art Collection to engage the MIT community and public with art, architecture, and environs.

MIT’s Student Lending Art Program Collection is made available online.

Four student guides stand in the gallery with a salon style hang on the wall behind them.

List Visual Arts Center 2019-2020 Student Guides

2018 The List Center commissions and completes two new Percent-for Art commissions by Olafur Eliasson and Nick Mauss. Eliasson’s Northwest Passage is situated on the ceiling of the breezeway of Building 12, MIT.nano. Nick Mauss’s Dispersed Events, a suite of seven ceramic tile murals of varying scales, is installed throughout the atria and stairways of I. M. Pei’s Landau Chemical Engineering Building (1976).

Olafur Eliasson's Northwest Passge hangs in the pedestrian path on the side of a building complex.

Olafur Eliasson, Northwest Passage, 2018. Stainless steel, LED lights, diffusers. An MIT Percent-for-Art Commission for MIT.nano Photo: Anton Grassl

2019 Alicja Kwade is commissioned to create Against the Run, a freestanding clock with a restrained modern design that tells the correct time—but does so in a way that confounds expectations. The work is currently sited on a patch of lawn adjacent to Richard Fleischner’s Upper Courtyard. The sculpture was commissioned through MIT’s Percent-for-Art Program and was on view as part of Alicja Kwade’s exhibition In Between Glances (October 18, 2019–January 5, 2020).

A black freestanding clock with a restrained modern design

Alicja Kwade, Against the Run, 2019. MIT Collection Commissioned with MIT Percent-for-Art funds. Photo by Charles Mayer Photography.

2020 The List Center closes their doors on March 13, 2020 along with the rest of MIT, due to COVID-19 and begins work to reimagine how to engage with local and global audiences. The run time for List Projects 21: Rami George is extended and two new exhibitions No Wrong Holes: Thirty Years of Nayland Blake and List Projects 22: Cindy Ji Hye Kim are installed.

The List Center presents over 20 virtual programs which brings in the largest audiences for single public programs to date.

Against a black background, a hand in blue latex-glove holds a postcard showing white curvy lines drawn by skates on blue ice.

2021 Wasserman Forum goes all virtual for the first time in its history due to COVID-19. The 2021 Max Wasserman Forum: Another World brings together artists, educators, and writers at the forefront of discourses on art in the digital realm to share their deep understandings and perspectives on digital media’s potential for more radical, imaginative, and limitless forms of cyber expressions. The keynote speaker is Berlin-based filmmaker and visual artist Hito Steyerl.

Event banner for Max Wasserman Forum 2021 with digitally textured background and light yellow text with event details.

2022 The List Center unveils a refreshed brand identity and a new website housing a robust digital archive with materials dating back to our opening in 1985 and designed with the best practices in web accessibility for the visual arts.

The Exhibition Archive holds newly digitized photographs, videos, educational texts, and other related media dating back to the List Center’s earliest years and the Exhibiting Artist Index is introduced where users can browse over 800 artists the List Center has presented since its founding in 1985.

Screen captures of webpages from the List Center's exhibtion archive laid out in a collage slightly tilted to the right.

Renderings of the List Center’s Exhibition Archive. Courtesy of Moth Design. 

2023 The List Center kicks off a special series of experimental List Projects programming commemorating the tenth anniversary of the series and is comprised of three exhibitions in the Bakalar Gallery. Each presentation pairs two artists who share a history of conversation and fosters their continued collaboration through a joint commission. List Projects 27: fields harrington and Nancy Valladares is the first exhibition of the series.

Three delicate lengths of glass tubing filled with expired film stock and a chlorine bleach solution are fastened to a white wall with metal and rubber clamps that look like standard lab equipment.

Nancy Valladares, PHOTO/SYNTHETIC, 2021—ongoing, (detail). Expired film stock, borosilicate glass tubing, bleach, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Gwen Madden