The Weatherspoon actively began collecting art in 1941. Since then it has maintained a commitment to the art of its time and a focus on works made in the United States from the beginning of the 20th century to the present. This commitment and focus remain, but the museum also recognizes the art world’s increasingly global nature. Thus, its collections also feature work by artists who were born outside of the United States but have a significant U.S. presence.

Artists working in the United States during the first decades of the twentieth century found inspiration from many sources—the city, science
and technology, European art forms,
etc.—to explore new modes of creativity. Artists responded to changing perceptions of traditions,
artistic practices, and channels of expression in a multitude of way, with some even seeking the possibility of a universal visual language. Works created in the first half of the twentieth century demonstrate the creative possibilities of early modernism, social realism, abstract expressionism, and geometric abstraction.

While traditional approaches to making art did not disappear, artists during the second half of the twentieth century began to explore new art forms such as happenings,
performance, earthworks, installation, video and film—processes that continue to influence and inspire artists today. Many artists utilized imagery from popular culture, mass media, and the history of art, while others questioned the concept of originality and the art object itself.

Concerns about identity politics also became evident. Nowadays conflicting social, political, philosophical, and artistic ideas abound in contemporary art. While the resulting complexity may at time seem confusing, it offers a richness and diversity never seen before.

Collection Highlights

Henry Ossawa Tanner
(1859 - 1937),
Willem de Kooning
(1904 - 1997),
Magdalena Abakanowicz
(b. 1930),
Gregory Crewdson
(b. 1962),

Please note: Not all works of art or collections are on view at all times, particularly works from the Claribel and Etta Cone Collection and Lenoir C. Wright Collection. As we continue to digitize the over 6,000 objects in our collection, guests may view them online through our collection search.