The Whitney’s collection includes over 22,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. At its core are Museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s personal holdings, totaling some 600 works when the Museum opened in 1931. These works served as the basis for the founding collection, which Mrs. Whitney continued to add to throughout her lifetime. The founding collection reflects Mrs. Whitney’s ardent support of living American artists of the time, particularly younger or emerging ones, including Peggy Bacon, George Bellows, Stuart Davis, Charles Demuth, Mabel Dwight, Edward Hopper, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Reginald Marsh, and John Sloan. This focus on the contemporary, along with a deep respect for artists’ creative process and vision, has guided the Museum’s collecting ever since.
The collection begins with Ashcan School painting and follows the major movements of the twentieth century in America, with strengths in Modernism and Social Realism, Precisionism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Minimalism, Postminimalism, art centered on identity and politics that came to the fore in the 1980s and 1990s, and contemporary work. The Museum’s signature exhibition is its biennial (and annual, during certain periods) survey of contemporary art, which has always kept the focus on the present, in the spirit of its founder. The highlights of the collection are definitive examples of their type, but there is also much variety and originality in works by less well-known figures. The collection includes all mediums; over eighty percent is works on paper.
The Whitney has deep holdings of the work of certain key artists, spanning their careers and the mediums in which they worked, including Alexander Calder, Mabel Dwight, Jasper Johns, Glenn Ligon, Brice Marden, Reginald Marsh, Agnes Martin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Claes Oldenburg, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, and David Wojnarowicz.