The museum opened on November 13, 2016. According to the New York Times, the museum includes "trailblazing contributions by the school’s renowned art faculty, which contributed to innovations in conceptual, performance and video art in the 1960s and 70s".
Richard L. Nelson was the founder of the art department at UC Davis, and he recruited a faculty in the early 1960s that included highly successful artists such as Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arneson, Roy De Forest, Manuel Neri, Roland Petersen and William T. Wiley. Several were associated with the Funk art genre.
In a negative 1981 review in the New York Times, conservative art critic Hilton Kramer referred to Arneson as the leader of "a spirit best defined as defiant provincialism" at UC Davis. That phrase has since been embraced as a defining description by artists associated with UC Davis.
For nearly 60 years, the art faculty hoped for and discussed the possibility of building a dedicated art museum, according to museum director Rachel Teagle.
Margrit Mondavi, widow of Napa Valley winemaker Robert Mondavi, made an initial $2 million donation to begin the project. Napa Valley winemaker Jan Shrem, founder of Clos Pegase winery, and his wife Maria Manetti Shrem, donated $10 million of the $30 million budget for building the museum.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne described the building: "Inside, a lobby with lightly polished concrete floors is lined with a sweeping curve of floor-to-ceiling glass. As you enter, a multipurpose room that can be arranged as an auditorium is off to the left, with classrooms, studios and museum offices straight ahead. To the right are the galleries, which fill rooms of varying sizes and heights and are topped with a ceiling of aluminum mesh, through which mechanical equipment is left visible."
A "focal point" of the design is the Grand Canopy, a structure of swooping curves that surrounds the museum. Described as a "perforated aluminum and steel roof that creates textured light and shadows throughout the grounds", it was inspired by the geometry of the farm fields that surround Davis.
According to acting university chancellor Ralph Hexter, "Students, faculty, staff and the public all will be able to enjoy our rich art legacy and history at UC Davis in a gorgeous and inviting building at the gateway to our campus. Our new museum stresses education first and foremost, with classrooms, a working studio for students and other resources near the entrance where all can see and enjoy for generations to come."
The museum owns nearly 6,000 art objects, including many works by Bruce Nauman, a 1966 MFA graduate of the university. Wayne Thiebaud has donated 72 of his own works and 300 works by other artists to the museum's permanent collection. In addition to his financial support, Jan Shrem has also donated works of art including sculptures from his collection to the museum's collection. 
- Hotchkiss, Sarah (November 8, 2016). "Get Optimistic with Grand Opening of the Manetti Shrem Museum". KQED. San Francisco. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
- Schwendener, Martha (September 16, 2016). "Art Fall Preview: From East Coast to West Coast. From Concrete to Ethereal". New York Times. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
- Dalkey, Victoria (November 10, 2016). "The Shrem: A museum that knows art is on the move". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
- Shaw, Matt (July 25, 2016). "DEFIANT PROVINCIALISM: Iwan Baan's first look inside the Manetti Shrem Art Museum by SO-IL and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson". The Architect's Newspaper. New York. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
- Kramer, Hilton. "Art View; Ceramic Sculpture and the Taste of California". New York Times. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
- "Manetti Shrem Museum opens at UC Davis". Napa Valley Register. November 16, 2016. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
- Nikos-Rose, Karen (June 27, 2016). "Wayne Thiebaud Donates Major Works of Art to New UC Davis Museum: The Master Painter Is a Lead Donor to the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, Slated to Open Nov. 13". UC Davis. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
- Hawthorne, Christopher (December 7, 2016). "New UC Davis art museum hints at fresh directions for American architecture". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
- Bittker, Janelle (September 22, 2016). "Davis' new Shrem Museum a work of art itself". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
- Macias, Chris (November 3, 2016). "What Gucci, Clos Pegase winery and UC Davis' new art museum have in common". Sacramento Bee. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
- Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art
- University of California Television - You See: The Early Years of the UC Davis Studio Art Faculty