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
Bildnis Holger Friedrich (Portrait of Holger Friedrich)
Fox Trot B
Number 13A: Arabesque
1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 Cross and Tower
Untitled

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 Gallery’s collection of modern and contemporary art continues to grow through gifts of works of art, the support of our donors, and new purchases. We were thrilled to be able to purchase a major work by Jasper Johns, one of the world’s most important living artists. His painting Untitled from 1984 is now on display in the contemporary art galleries next to works by many of Johns’s close friends, such as fellow artists Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly. This work is a tremendous example of Johns’s white paintings, which have become landmarks of modern art. The painting also illustrates his later, more subjective style, which uses abstract as well as figurative elements, and which plays with optical illusion to further disrupt the flat canvas. Here, Johns demonstrates his masterful use of encaustic (melted wax combined with pigments), a medium that requires a very precise yet quick technique. Building the surface through layers of encaustic, Johns brilliantly transcends the constraints of the medium. Untitled joins other works by Johns in the collection, including several prints and the painting Figure 3 from 1960, one of his iconic number paintings, also on view in the contemporary art galleries.

Pamela Franks

Deputy Director for Exhibitions, Programming, and Education and the Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Jasper Johns, Untitled, 1984. Encaustic and charcoal on canvas. Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery

Meet the Curators

Pamela Franks

Pamela Franks is Deputy Director for Exhibitions, Programming, and Education 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 B.A. and an M.A. in art history from the Sorbonne as well as another M.A. and a diploma in museology from the École du Louvre. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation on German painters in southern France at the Université d’Aix-Marseille. After a graduate internship at the J. Paul Getty Museum, where she cocurated an exhibition on 19th-century European landscape painting, she was a research associate at ArtTransForm, a research project on German painters active in Paris. From 2011 to 2014, she worked as a curatorial assistant at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where she curated permanent-collection installations, notably Between Art and Politics: Hans Richter’s Germany (2013) and Visions of the South (2014), and helped to organize Hans Richter: Encounters (2013) and Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky (2014).

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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