The inaugural exhibition of the collection was held in 1945 in George Street. Just over 30 years later, in 1976, the University Art Museum was established in the Forgan Smith Tower on the St Lucia campus. The first director of the Art Museum, and head of the Department of Fine Arts, was Nancy Underhill (later Associate Professor Underhill). Her focus was to acquire works by leading contemporary artists with a bias towards Queensland artists.
Underhill was passionate about encouraging her students to use the museum as a ‘laboratory’, enabling them to learn a range of curatorial skills. Underhill was succeeded in 1996 by Ross Searle, who oversaw the Art Museum’s move in 2004 from the Forgan Smith Tower to its present site. Searle also implemented the Art Museum’s development of a National Collection of Artists’ Self Portraits and a bi-annual self-portraiture prize.