A spokesman for Durham University said developing its collections of art was "essential".
Students have called it a disgrace that the university spent £1.4m on art while increasing tuition fees to £9,000 a year.
But the statement, released by the university, said:
“Durham University is a custodian of many fine treasures and developing our collections of graphic art and sculpture for public display was an essential part of the original concept for the Palatine Centre.
“Some of the artwork was commissioned and reflects the University’s academic strengths and the heritage of our region.
“The works that can now be viewed represent a rich and varied presentation of 20th and 21st century art.
“The University organises free guided tours and staff, students and the public are encouraged to come and enjoy it.”
More top news
A mixed picture over the next few days - summer is here, but there's a price to pay.
The Royal Life Saving Society UK has issued a warning as temperatures across Britain are set to hit a scorching 35C
A young couple from Wallsend - Abbie Douglas and Sam Younganan - describe hearing gun shots in the Tunisian resort of Sousse