Modern & Contemporary Art
From the first annual exhibitions of local artists to the current explorations of art from across the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia, building a comprehensive collection of modern and contemporary art has always been central to the mission of the MFAH. The Museum collects contemporary artwork across many collecting areas. ► Browse all of the Museum's contemporary artworks.
The collecting department of modern and contemporary art has grown to more than 1,400 objects spanning six continents. Learn more about this collection below.
Major figures in the evolution Modern and Contemporary art, with a particular emphasis on the progress of abstraction, are represented across the 20th century and into the 21st. This segment of the Museum’s collection begins with foundational works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, and Fernand Léger from the Cubist years, with additional masterpieces by Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Constantin Brancusi, and Lionel Feininger representing the wider range of early European Modernism.
The Surrealist era is introduced with works by Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, Roberto Matta, Joan Miró, and Yves Tanguy. Works by painters and sculptors of the New York School have been collected in exceptional depth, with outstanding examples by Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and David Smith, among others. Color Field painting is also a particular focus of the collection, with notable works by Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Kenneth Noland. The complementary currents of Pop Art and Minimalism are introduced with works by Lee Bontecou, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol and by Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, and Frank Stella.
Postwar European artists in the collection range from Pierre Alechinsky, Anthony Caro, Niki de Saint-Phalle, and Jean Tinguely to Rebecca Horn, Anselm Kiefer, Giuseppe Penone, and Gerhard Richter. Collecting in the new millennium has opened up new avenues of exploration, from the light-based works of James Turrell, Jennifer Steinkamp, and Bill Viola to artists who challenge accepted art-historical narratives, including Nan Goldin, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Do Ho Suh, and Fred Wilson. The Museum also collects the work of artists who have made Texas their home, from Forrest Bess to Mark Flood. Special emphasis is given to artists who have participated in the Core Fellowship Program of the Museum’s Glassell School, including Trenton Doyle Hancock, Julie Mehretu, and Clarissa Tossin.
The Caroline Wiess Law Collection
Caroline Wiess Law (1918–2003) brought an uncompromising eye and great flair to her collection of Modern masterpieces. Born in Beaumont, Texas, and raised in Houston, she took true joy in the pursuit of great paintings and sculpture. Her first landmark acquisition was Pablo Picasso’s Two Women in Front of a Window, 1927, which in 1964 was her first magnificent gift to the MFAH. By the 1980s she had begun collecting in earnest, ranging from Surrealism to Pop Art, with a special emphasis on the leading figures of the New York School, including Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Philip Guston, Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and her personal favorite, Franz Kline.
The Edward R. Broida Bequest
Edward R. Broida (1933–2006), an architect and real estate developer, began collecting art in 1978 when he first came upon the late figurative paintings of Philip Guston. This encounter quickly ignited a passion for art that was independent from the mainstream, with a particular emphasis on expressive figuration and new materials. The Broida Bequest at the MFAH encompasses over 200 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, including major works by Guston, Wolfgang Laib, Elizabeth Murray, Ken Price, and Peter Shelton, among 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, James Surls, and Luis Jimenez 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 Mark Flood attest to the ongoing and vibrantly creative evolution of the Lone Star State.
For information about past MFAH exhibitions, search the exhibitions archive database.
- African Art Now
- American Art and Philanthropy: A Permanent Legacy at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
- Amy Blakemore: Photographs 1988–2008
- Czech Avant-Garde Art and Modern Glass from the Roy and Mary Cullen Collection
- John Alexander: A Retrospective
- John Biggers: View from the Upper Room
- Joseph Havel: A Decade of Sculpture 1996–2006
- Kenneth Noland: The Nature of Color
- RED HOT – Asian Art Today from the Chaney Family Collection
- A Sculpture for Sculpture: The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
- Texas: 150 Works from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Members of contemporary@mfah are invited to participate in four special events annually, including dialogues with museum professionals, tours of private collections, and studio visits with artists. Each year brings at least one opportunity to visit a major art destination. Members also have access to the Museum’s resources to learn best collecting practices, with an emphasis on how to build and maintain a commitment to contemporary art.
The MFAH Collections
To explore all of the Museum’s works of art, search the collection.