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The New Contemporary

Galleries 288, 290–299

This past December, we reopened our galleries of contemporary art, unveiling the largest gift in the Art Institute’s 136-year history: 44 iconic works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns. Generously donated by Chicago collectors Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson, these 44 paintings, sculptures, and photographs transform the museum’s presentation of contemporary art, bringing new depth and perspective to the Art Institute’s already strong holdings and making this collection the strongest of any encyclopedic art museum in the world.

The Art Institute has been committed to collecting and exhibiting contemporary art since the museum’s founding in the 19th century, when Impressionism was considered “contemporary.” Our rich collections today are largely the result of the generosity and vision of private collectors who have chosen to become great benefactors, and the Edlis/Neeson gift is the latest chapter in this long legacy of patronage and support.

Their gift charts the course of the most adventurous art movements since the 1950s, primarily in the United States, beginning with the work of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly, who began to forge a path out of Abstract Expressionism toward Pop Art with the use of images, materials, and techniques from mass media and found objects. Pop itself is represented in the gift by a landmark group of works by Andy Warhol—including two self-portraits—and signature works by Roy Lichtenstein. The collection also chronicles the significant and enduring influence of Pop Art on later generations of artists, including the virtuouso painter Gerhard Richter, the photography-based critiques of Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman, and the pop-culture riffs of Katharina Fritsch, Jeff Koons, and Takashi Murakami.

The Art Institute is a collection of collections, each compelling on its own terms yet capable of telling richer, more extraordinary stories when brought into dialogue. To be sure, the Art Institute of Chicago—and the stories we tell—have been made far greater by Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson’s gift, an extraordinary benefaction to the city, and, indeed, to the world.