The Department of Modern and Contemporary Art actively acquires and organizes exhibitions and special presentations of works of art created throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The story of Modern art unfolds across the MFAH campus. Early examples, including works by Constantin Brancusi, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso, are on view in the Beck Building. The story continues in the Law Building, with ongoing presentations mid-20th century art. The Cullen Sculpture Garden displays sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, Ellsworth Kelly, Auguste Rodin, and other key figures.
Art at mid-century is one of the museum’s outstanding strengths, with exceptional works by the Abstract Expressionists, including Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner, Robert Motherwell, and Jackson Pollock; and paintings by leading figures of the next generation, such as Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland. Post-World War II sculpture includes examples by Alexander Calder, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Jean Tinguely.
The museum's commitment to Contemporary art is a shared, interdepartmental endeavor, ranging across five continents and reflecting today’s global culture. Outstanding examples include videos by pioneers of the medium such as Nam June Paik and Bill Viola; light-based installations by Carlos Cruz-Diez and James Turrell; and works by artists who test the limits of sculpture, including Damien Hirst, Do Ho Suh, and Rachel Whiteread. Additionally, the collection features in-depth representations of works by Thornton Dial, Sr., Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, and highlights acclaimed artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang, Anselm Kiefer, Brice Marden, and Agnes Martin, among many others.
A significant segment in the MFAH commitment to Modern and Contemporary art is art from Texas. More than 2,000 works ranging across all media testify to the rich and varied history of this region. Paintings by artists such as Forrest Bess, John Biggers, and Dorothy Hood represent the first coming-of-age of Texas art. John Alexander, Vernon Fisher, Melissa Miller, and James Surls, among others, were among the pioneering artists to map the Postmodern Texas landscape in the 1980s and 1990s. Recent acquisitions of artworks by Trenton Doyle Hancock, Robyn O’Neil, and Dario Robleto attest to the ongoing and vibrantly creative evolution of the Lone Star State.