The Department of Modern and Contemporary Art encompasses art in most media, including painting, sculpture, video, and performance, created in all countries between 1870 and the present day. The museum began to systematically collect modern art in the late 1940s. Many of the key works in its collection were presented by donors, mainly by alumni, as gifts or bequests. The Museum’s collection is comprised of an important group of late landscapes by Claude Monet and an enigmatic painting by Édouard Manet, while a small but stellar group of works by such artists as Odilon Redon, Vasily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter, Emil Nolde, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Yves Tanguy, and Jean Arp represent twentieth-century modernism. A rare late work by Ilya Repin is one of the artist’s most important paintings outside of Russia.
Highlights of the Museum’s postwar collection include Willem de Kooning’s Black Friday, from the artist’s breakthrough exhibition in 1948. Thanks to strategic purchases as well as a series of gifts, some in honor of William C. Seitz, Graduate School Class of 1955, the Museum is home to a strong collection of postwar art: works by Romare Bearden, Lee Bontecou, Dan Flavin, Yayoi Kusama, Sol LeWitt, Morris Louis, Ad Reinhardt, Martha Rosler, David Smith, Robert Smithson, Frank Stella, Hannah Wilke, and others compose this part of the collection.
The Museum’s holdings in Pop art are particularly impressive, and they include works by George Segal, Tom Wesselmann, and Andy Warhol, whose Blue Marilyn was donated by alumnus Alfred Barr in 1978. In 2008, the Museum renewed its commitment to contemporary art, and since then, its collection in this area has flourished. Priority has been given to works that contribute in significant ways to the field and exemplify the most pressing cultural, social, and philosophical issues of their day. Recent acquisitions include pieces by Doug Aitken, Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla, Polly Apfelbaum, Sanford Biggers, Ellen Gallagher, Wade Guyton, Matthew Day Jackson, Wangechi Mutu, and Javier Téllez.