The Room of Contemporary Art

The Room of Contemporary Art was a semi-autonomous exhibition space within the museum that was devoted to the continuous but rotating presentation of new art. Opening in 1939, it showcased some of the most radical art of the time, serving as an experimental venue where the museum’s collecting strategy was re-envisioned and reaffirmed.

The Room was initiated by Board Member A. Conger Goodyear and Director Gordon J. Washburn, and was organized by Philip J. Wickser with inaugural donations from newly elected Board President Seymour H. Knox, Jr., and other members of the Knox family. It opened on January 4, 1939, with an exhibition of 41 works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Charles Demuth, Georgia O’Keeffe, and other internationally renowned artists. Although the Room was small in size, the impact was considerable. The initiative not only transformed the museum’s collection but placed the institution on par with other international modern art museums.

Installation view of the Exhibition of Contemporary Art, 1939

The Room of Contemporary Art Inaugural Exhibition, 1939

The Room resulted in the immediate acquisition of masterworks by Paul Cézanne, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Amedeo Modigliani, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, and Chaïm Soutine. It also helped to facilitate the museum’s acquisition of Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure, 1935–36, the first work by the British sculptor to enter the collection of an American art museum.

The last artwork purchased through the Room of Contemporary Art was in 1957, but in July 1996, the museum launched the New Room of Contemporary Art, an exhibition program named after the historic Room that highlighted important contemporary art. Its inaugural project was an exhibition of works by the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher.

  • Related Exhibition

    Room of Contemporary Art Inaugural Exhibition

    January 2–29, 1939

  • Related Exhibition

    New Room of Contemporary Art: Bernd and Hilla Becher

    August 2–November 3, 1996

  • Related Exhibition

    The Impermanent Collection: The Room of Contemporary Art, 1939–1971

    November 4, 2011–March 4, 2012