Art Behind the Scenes Contemporary

A Living Collection: The Contemporary Art Galleries

Discover new aspects of the contemporary art story in the updated galleries featuring familiar works and new favorites.

Three men preparing to hang an abstract work of art
Paul Jenkins (American, 1923 – 2012), Phenomena 831 Broadway, 1963. Acrylic on canvas. 111 × 69 in. (281.94 × 175.26 cm). Gift of Jane Bradley Pettit, M1975.187. © Estate of Paul Jenkins/Licensed by ADAGP, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York

The Museum’s collection of more than 32,000 works of art spans from antiquity to the present and includes gifts and purchases dating from 1888 to today. There are the favorites that everyone looks forward to seeing with each visit, yet works come in and out and are frequently moved about. They rest (in the vault), travel to other institutions, and enter new social circles in the galleries, striking up new conversations. Each work of art has a “life” that makes the collection itself dynamic—one with many stories to share. 

The Museum has long had a commitment to collecting the art of its time. The changes in the contemporary galleries include bringing works out of the vault that will be new to many visitors and rehanging others in new locations in order to highlight different aspects of the contemporary art story. For instance, most major art movements since the 1960s—Pop art, Conceptual art, Minimalism, Neo-Expressionism, installation art—have strong representation in the Museum’s collection. Yet the precursors to contemporary art have been residing a floor above, in the Bradley Collection of Modern Art. In fact, the Museum has the contemporary collection it has because of the incredible gift from local collector Mrs. Harry Lynde Bradley. The gift brought international attention to the Museum and its unique position to present the art that followed. Paintings from this collection are among the works that might come as a surprise when you see them in their new location. 

From Abstract Expressionism to monumental sculpture, and with works by Sam Gilliam, Eva Hesse, Hans Hoffman, Joan Mitchell, and Nate Young, among others, the galleries may look familiar, but new favorites are likely to pull you into unexpected conversations. 

Visit the Museum to experience the recent changes in the contemporary galleries, and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to take a behind-the-scenes look at the transformation.

Margaret Andera is interim chief curator and curator of contemporary art. She has been with the Milwaukee Art Museum for more than 25 years and has facilitated numerous important acquisitions of contemporary and self-taught work for the collection.

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