Princeton’s collections of modern and contemporary art are continually evolving, offering an increasingly expansive representation of art after 1945 and supporting the work of contemporary artists. Now including art made in all media from artists across the globe, the scope of the collections area has grown and diversified since the Museum began to collect modern art in the late 1940s. The early holdings in postwar art were shaped largely by gifts, many from artists themselves—including works by Lee Bontecou, Sam Gilliam, Yayoi Kusama, Alice Neel, and Princeton alumnus Frank Stella—many donated in the 1970s in memory of the art historian and curator William C. Seitz, Graduate School Class of 1955. These gifts arrived alongside those of Willem De Kooning’s Black Friday and Andy Warhol’s Blue Marilyn, the latter one of many donations from alumnus Alfred Barr, which respectively marked postwar abstraction and Pop art as collection strengths. Beyond the Museum’s walls, a 1968 gift endowing the John B. Putnam Memorial Collection filled the University campus with outdoor sculptures and works of public art by artists such as Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, and Louise Nevelson.
Since the 1990s, and especially since the appointment in 2007 of the Museum’s first curator dedicated to modern and contemporary art, the collections have been inflected by a global expansiveness and a systematic approach to collecting. Under the Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, a position endowed in 2010, strategic acquisition initiatives, important gifts, and the implementation of the Sarah Lee Elson, Class of 1984, International Artist-in-Residence Program have introduced art by African and African diasporic, Asian, Asian American, Indigenous North American, Latin American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern artists, supporting the University’s ever-expanding teaching mission. Enriching the Museum’s holdings by women artists has been a sustained collecting emphasis for some twenty years. In addition to recent acquisitions of works for the collection by María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Byron Kim, Titus Kaphar, Wangechi Mutu, Pat Steir, and Marie Watt, among many others, the Museum engages the art of our time by commissioning artworks for the University campus from such artists as Maya Lin, Odili Donald Odita, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Richard Serra, and Shahzia Sikander.
Modern and contemporary art at Princeton—often acquired collaboratively across collections areas given its geographic reach and material diversity—can also be found in the collections of African art, Asian art, Latin American art, Photography, and Prints and Drawings.