20th Century

Realism and Abstraction

Artists in the twentieth century chose two distinct ways to depict modernism and the excitement of progress—realism and abstraction. Both are well represented in the collection. The museum has the largest collection of New Deal art and murals in the country. Images of jazz and street life, farms and factories, workers and families captured a changing America, from Thomas Hart Benton’s Midwest to Jacob Lawrence’s Harlem. In Cape Cod Morning Edward Hopper captures the post-war mood of anxiety in this stark, ambiguous painting.  John Sloan and Andrew Wyeth are among other realist painters in the collection.

Some American modernists found new ways of depicting the spirit of their age. The dynamic rhythms of modern life energized artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Joseph Stella, while artists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline reveled in the freedoms and frustrations of abstraction, and in turn inspired the next generation of painters such as Richard Diebenkorn and Kenneth Noland. Important twentieth-century artists such as Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Wayne Thiebaud, Alfred Jensen, and Philip Guston explored questions about subject, composition, color, and technique.

The museum has an extensive collection of large-scale paintings by Washington Color School artists, who were conducting innovative experiments with color and form between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s, including Leon Berkowitz, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Sam Gilliam, Fel Hines, Jacob Kainen, Howard Mehring, Paul Reed, and Alma Thomas.

In recent years the museum has added to the collection works from the late twentieth century by artists such as Jennifer Bartlett, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Eric Fischl, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Nam June Paik, Philip Pearlstein, Renée Stout, Mark Tansey, and William Wiley.

1995-1996
oil on two canvases, acrylic on canvas-covered masonite, wood dowels
1995
fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound
1929
oil on canvas
1932
oil on canvas
1962
oil on canvas
ca. 1951
watercolor on paper mounted on paper
1967
oil on wood
1950
watercolor on paper mounted on paperboard
1972
acrylic on canvas
ca. 1935-1937
oil on canvas
1961
oil, wood, graphite, fabric, metal, and rubber on canvas
1926
oil on fiberboard
1960
tempera on fiberboard
1961
oil on canvas