Modern and Contemporary Art

The collection of modern and contemporary art at the Gallery is noteworthy for exemplary works from the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century. Particular strengths are an exceptional group of avant-garde artworks from 1920 to 1940 represented in the Société Anonyme Collection, as well as an outstanding collection of mid-20th-century American paintings.
The Waterfall
While the Earth Revolves at Night
Femme assise (Seated Woman)
Le renversement (Somersault)
Ocean Park #24
Number 13A: Arabesque

About Modern and Contemporary Art

The early years of the 20th century were characterized in the visual arts by a radical international reassessment of the relationship between vision and representation, as well as of the social and political role of artists in society at large. The extraordinary modern collection at the Yale University Art Gallery spans these years of dramatic change and features rich holdings in abstract painting by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Wassily Kandinsky, as well as in paintings and sculptures associated with German Expressionism, Russian Constructivism, De Stijl, Dada, and Surrealism. Many of these works came to Yale in the form of gifts and bequests from important American collections, including those of Molly and Walter Bareiss, B.S. 1940s; Stephen Carlton Clark, B.A. 1903; Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, B.A. 1929; Katharine Ordway; and John Hay Whitney.

Art from 1920 to 1940 is strongly represented at the Gallery by the group of objects collected by the Société Anonyme, an artists’ organization founded by Katherine S. Dreier and Marcel Duchamp with Man Ray. This remarkable collection, which was transferred to Yale in 1941, comprises a rich array of paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures by major 20th-century artists, including Marcel Duchamp, Constantin Brancusi, El Lissitzky, and Piet Mondrian, as well as lesser-known artists who made important contributions to the modernist movement.

The Gallery is also widely known for its outstanding collection of American painting from after World War II. Highlights include Jackson Pollock’s Number 13A: Arabesque (1948) and Roy Lichtenstein’s Blam (1962), part of a larger gift of important postwar works donated to the Gallery by Richard Brown Baker, B.A. 1935. Recent gifts from Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, and Thurston Twigg-Smith, B.E. 1942, have dramatically expanded the Collection with works by artists such as James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha, and Wayne Thiebaud.

The department continues to support the Happy and Bob Doran Artist-in-Residence program founded in 2003. Invited artists take advantage of the greater intellectual and physical resources of the University. Participating artists have included Janine Antoni, Carol Bove, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Yun-Fei Ji, Kerry James Marshall, Thomas Nozkowski, Richard Rezac, Tris Vonna-Michell, Richard Tuttle, William T. Wiley, and Paula Wilson.

Note from the Curator

The Yale University Art Gallery was recently gifted an exceptional painting by the Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga (1924–2008). Shiraga was a member of the avant-garde group Gutai (whose name translates to “embodiment” or “concrete”), which was founded in 1954 by the painter Jiro Yoshihara. Their art, which comprised Happenings and performances, anticipated other postwar movements such as Conceptual art.

The works produced by Gutai artists are incredibly diverse, but a common factor among them is their innovation; for instance, some artists painted with their bodies instead of brushes, while others created interactive art and multimedia, kinetic, or sound-based works. Shiraga, one of the central figures of the group, became famous for employing his own body as a tool in his paintings. After first using his fingers and hands to apply oil paint on the canvas, he became convinced that they were “too learned” and turned to using his feet instead. Hanging from a rope, he made thickly impastoed, abstract works solely with his feet, transforming the act of painting into a performance. This untitled painting is an example of Shiraga’s singular technique; it shows a blast of colors and the fierce movement of paint across the canvas, almost like a dance, emphasizing the artist’s physical involvement in its creation. An outstanding example of postwar Japanese art, this painting is fittingly installed in the contemporary art galleries next to major Abstract Expressionist works by artists such as Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky, who similarly challenged the limits of the canvas and invented a highly gestural visual language.

Frauke V. Josenhans

The Horace W. Goldsmith Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Kazuo Shiraga, Untitled, 1962. Oil on canvas, 38 x 51 in. (96.5 x 129.5 cm). Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Ann and Fred Notehelfer

Meet the Curators

Pamela Franks

Pamela Franks is Senior Deputy Director and the Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. Franks has directed student curators at the Gallery in the creation of several major exhibitions, most recently Odd Volumes: Book Art from the Allan Chasanoff Collection (2014), and she is actively engaged in developing the Gallery’s visiting-artist programs. She is the project director for the Gallery’s College and University Art Museum Collection-Sharing Initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Franks holds a PH.D. in the History of Art from the University of Texas at Austin with a specialization in modern and contemporary art and is a 2008 graduate of the Getty Leadership Institute.

pamela.franks@yale.edu

Frauke V. Josenhans

Frauke V. Josenhans, the Horace W. Goldsmith Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, holds a PH.D. in art history from the Aix-Marseille Université and has graduate degrees in art history and museology from the Sorbonne and the École du Louvre. After working at the J. Paul Getty Museum, for the French Ministry of Culture, and for the French-German research project ArtTransForm, she worked at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. At LACMA, she helped organize the exhibition Hans Richter: Encounters (2013) and co-organized Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky (2014), as well as curated modern art installations, notably Visions of the South (2014). At the Gallery, she curated the exhibition Everything Is Dada (2016), co-curated Modern Art from the Middle East (2017), and is organizing the upcoming exhibition Artists in Exile: Expressions of Loss and Hope (September 2017).

frauke.josenhans@yale.edu

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Further Reading

Chaffee, Cathleen. Eye on a Century: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012.
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Farrell, Jennifer. Get There First, Decide Promptly: The Richard Brown Baker Collection of Postwar Art. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2011.
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Fisher, Susan Greenberg. Picasso and the Allure of Language, exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 2009.
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Gross, Jennifer, ed. The Société Anonyme: Modernism for America, exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
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Gross, Jennifer, ed. Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 2009: State of the Art: Contemporary Sculpture (2009).
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Herbert, Robert L., Eleanor S. Apter, and Elise K. Kenney, eds. The Société Anonyme and the Dreier Bequest at Yale University: A Catalogue Raisonné. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.

 

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