Please note: Access to the exhibition is free on Sunday, May 19, as part of To Take Shape and Meaning Free Community Day.

21st century

In recent decades major acquisitions have helped build a significant collection of contemporary art. Outstanding works in the 21st century collection include Jaume Plensa’s illuminated sculpture Doors of Jerusalem I, II, and III (2006), Beth Lipman’s monumental glass sculpture Bride (2010), Mickalene Thomas’s powerful painting Three Graces: Les Trois Femmes Noires (2011), Kehinde Wiley’s provocative portrait Judith and Holofernes (2012), Yinka Shonibare’s dynamic Wind Sculpture II (2013), Yoan Capote’s Isla (Tierra Prometida) (2016), Yayoi Kusama's infinity chamber sculpture LIGHT OF LIFE (2018), William Kentridge's video installation KABOOM! (2018), and Simone Leigh’s Corrugated (2019).  Currently on view in the Park are permanent works by Chris Drury, Martha Jackson-Jarvis, Thomas Sayre, Yinka Shonibare, Hank Willis Thomas, and Vollis Simpson.

Mickalene Thomas, Three Graces: Les Trois Femmes Noires, 2011, rhinestones, acrylic paint, and oil enamel on wood panel, 108 × 144 in., Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest)


In the 21st century, contemporary art has become a truly global, cross-cultural dialogue, and artists are employing a variety of media to express their ideas. With recent acquisitions a concerted effort has been made to acquire works in new and experimental media, such as Bill Viola’s video The Quintet of Remembrance (2000) and Michal Rovner’s video installation Tfila (2004). Jennifer Steinkamp’s video Mike Kelley (2007), and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s The Year’s Midnight (Shadow Box 5) (2011), Yayoi Kusama’s LIGHT OF LIFE (2018), and William Kentridge’s KABOOM! (2018).

Cultural and regional representation has also been expanded, with the Museum actively acquiring works by artists of diverse backgrounds, including José Bedia, iona rozeal brown, Lalla Essaydi, Maria Elena González, Sangbin Im, Hayv Kahraman, Seydou Keïta, Mustafa Maluka, Mario Cravo Neto, Angel Otero, Alison Saar, and Yinka Shonibare, MBE. In 2003 the Museum started actively collecting contemporary photography, and the collection now includes well over 400 photographs by nationally and internationally known photographers, including works by Matthew Brandt, Pieter Hugo, Rosemary Laing, Dinh Q. Lê, Vera Lutter, Andrew Moore, Richard Mosse, Jackie Nickerson, Alex Prager, Lorna Simpson, and Hank Willis Thomas.

The collection includes a comprehensive survey of North Carolina artists. Highlights of the North Carolina collection include George Bireline’s abstract painting Matisse Window (1964), Maud Gatewood’s expressively painted landscape Jungle Camp (2000), Bob Trotman’s figurative sculpture Girl (2002), Beverly McIver’s triptych self-portrait Reminiscing (2005), Anne Lemanski’s portrait of a gorilla, Senkwekwe (2009), and Damian Stamer’s abstracted landscape South Lowell 18 (2014). Recent acquisitions have concentrated on contemporary photography and include works by Endia Beal, Ralph Burns, and David Spear.


The Museum’s contemporary art program extends into the landscape surrounding the Museum, where artists are invited to create both temporary and permanent site-specific works of art in the Museum Park. Currently on view in the Park are permanent works by Chris Drury, Martha Jackson-Jarvis, Thomas Sayre, Yinka Shonibare, and Vollis Simpson. The NCMA’s other permanent outdoor sculptures—Ronald Bladen’s Three Elements, Wim Botha’s Prism 5 and Prism 7, Henry Moore’s Large Spindle Piece and Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge, Roxy Paine’s Askew, and Ursula Von Rydingsvard’s Ogromnaare installed in the gardens surrounding the gallery building. Picture This, part of the Joseph M. Bryan, Jr., Theater in the Museum Park, is a monumental work of art designed by artist Barbara Kruger in collaboration with architects and landscape architects.

The West Building houses the Museum’s contemporary collections, occupying several rooms within an expansive suite of galleries devoted to the art of the 20th and 21st centuries. In addition to special exhibition galleries, the Museum’s East Building houses galleries dedicated to video and new media art, photography, and artists’ projects.

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