Beyond the Frame: Celebrating 70 Years of Collecting | Hunter Museum of American Art 7.0.33-0+deb9u12

Beyond the Frame: Celebrating 70 Years of Collecting

Beyond the Frame: Celebrating 70 Years of Collecting features some of our guests’ favorite pieces, as well as many of the Hunter’s newest acquisitions. Beginning in 1952, the same year the museum opened its doors, the Hunter began collecting, and now has almost 3,000 works of art in the collection. All by American artists, the works include paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and mixed media art. Even with three buildings, the museum only has enough gallery space to exhibit about 10% of its collection at a time. The rest is housed in a specially designed, climate-controlled storage area in the museum’s basement.

While the Hunter has been collecting for 70 years, the goals for the collection have changed over time. In the early years, the museum acquired art mainly through donations, including works by artists from other countries. Thanks to a generous gift from the Benwood Foundation in 1975, the museum was able to purchase works by significant American artists, resulting in the foundation for the world class American art collection we have today. This was also when we built the East Wing (the brutalist style architecture). As the museum grew and our community changed, so did our building as the West Wing, into which you now enter, was built.

During the last 20 years, the museum’s collecting focus has shifted to better reflect the diversity of our community. The Hunter has prioritized the collecting of  artworks by women and artists of color, as well as works that incorporate technology to best connect to the interests of 21st century audiences. A number of works acquired during this time reflect themes of social justice: the struggle for civil rights; being unheard and historically marginalized; other forms of racism and sexism; and climate change issues. In this exhibition, one full gallery focuses on the importance of works of art exploring these themes.


Creative problem solving is at the heart of an exhibition! An exhibit is put together through hard work from all members of the museum staff – including many our visitors rarely see.


  • Come up with the concept and select artworks for an exhibition
  • Research the artwork and write interpretive text
  • Design the gallery spaces for the exhibition


  • Determine the condition of artworks and whether they can be exhibited
  • Secure shipping with art carriers and insurance for artworks
  • Coordinate all paperwork around an exhibition, including loan agreements and contracts


  • “Prep” for an exhibit by anticipating the needs for various artworks and troubleshooting as needed
  • Build and paint walls, crates, pedestals and mounts; frame artworks
  • Handle artwork and install and light the exhibition


For an exhibition to be successful, museums need more than curators. Our education team brings the artwork to life by putting together interactives and programs that engage the public—from scholarly talks, to school and adult tours, to films, poetry, music, and dance performances, to fun family days.  Our communications team promotes the exhibition through both traditional and social media. And they help define the “look” of an exhibition through graphic design, postcards, banners and advertisements. Our development team helps to fund everything!


Curate/Curator – The term ‘Curator’ means keeper, and in the context of an art museum, it means to keep, or care for, the collection of that institution. The process of curating in a museum is more complex than simply putting pieces together. Curators define the artistic direction of their institution by researching, interpreting, and ultimately, choosing the artwork for a museum.

Acquisition – When a work of art is purchased by the museum or is donated to the museum, it becomes a museum acquisition and it goes through an accessioning process. This is the formal act of legally accepting an object or objects  that a museum holds in the public trust, or, in other words, those in the museum’s permanent collection. Because the museum commits staff time, space and other resources to the proper care of these objects, it is important that acquiring objects for the collections be done in a thoughtful, inclusive way that reflects the best interests of the museum and its audiences, and can be sustained by the available resources of the institution.

Permanent Collection – A permanent collection refers to objects and artworks that a museum owns, either through purchases or donations, that it has committed to taking care of in perpetuity. [We mean, forever!]

Museum label – All works of art on display have a label posted near them.  Every label includes:

  • the artist’s name and dates they were alive
  • the title of the work of art
  • the year the art work was made (which may span several years or may have a ‘c.’ in front of it if we only know an approximate date)
  • The media or materials the artist used to make the work of art
  • Information about who donated the work of art (or donated funds for the work of art) to the museum
  • An accession number, which is simply the year the artwork came into the collection, followed by a number indicating the order in which it arrived (so an accession number of 2021.11 would mean a work of art came into the collection in 2021 and was the 11th work to come into the collection that year)

Sometimes this label also includes information to help you, the viewer, better understand the work of art, prompt deeper thinking about the work or offer additional resources for individual exploration of the artist or art movement.

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The Hunter is your community art museum. We strive to be accessible to as many people as possible. Your unrestricted, 100% tax-deductible gift to the Annual Fund supports our commitment to giving free admission to:

- All children age 17 and under
- Active military and their families
- Families who attend our “Family Fun Days” offered three times a year
- All visitors on the first Thursday evening of each month


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