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Curatorial Divisions

Division of Modern and Contemporary Art

The Division of Modern and Contemporary Art oversees global art dating from 1901 to the present day. The collection includes more than 110,000 drawings, paintings, photographs, prints, sculptures, installations, objects of decorative art and of time-based media held by the Fogg Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, and Arthur M. Sackler Museum.

Great strengths in European modernism include works by members of the Austrian Secession and German expressionists. Students can study cubism’s challenge to traditional representation in drawings, paintings, and prints. Examples of the pursuit of abstraction in the early twentieth century include masterworks of constructivism, de Stijl, and Neue Sachlichkeit, as well as an important repository of materials related to the Bauhaus.

America’s particular expression of modern art in the first half of the twentieth century is well represented. Realism and social realism are anchored by thousands of photographs as well as drawings, paintings, and prints by the American artist Ben Shahn and by the work of his contemporaries. The division’s rich holdings of photography in the documentary tradition extend into the second half of the twentieth century, with landmark prints by masters of the medium as well as the Schneider-Erdman Printer’s Proof Collection.

Mid-century figurative and abstract expressionism and color field works in all media constitute a particular strength of the collection. The division also oversees one of the most extensive selections of David Smith’s work, as well as abstract and experimental photographs by the German Subjective group and Americans Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, their mentors, colleagues, and students.

By experimenting with nontraditional materials as varied as everyday detritus, store-bought materials, or gunpowder, the works of our time have extended the very definition of art. The collection has significant works in video and other projection-based media and a growing strength in art that deploys language to focus on the creation of subjectivity and its intersection with the public sphere. Recent acquisitions of contemporary art signify the museums’ expanding global ambition for the collection and include works by artists from Asia, Africa, and South America, as well as North America and Europe.

The division is responsible for the archives of several artists: Stuart Davis, Lyonel Feininger, Walter Gropius, Ben Shahn, and Christopher Wilmarth. Other special holdings are the Fluxus collection, which includes multiples from the 1960s by such experimental artists as Yoko Ono, George Maciunas, and Christo; the comprehensive collection of unique and editioned artworks by Joseph Beuys; the Social Museum Collection of Progressive Era photographs; and the mid-century American Professional Photographers Collection.