Among the department's highlights are iconic works by members of the School of Paris, such as Balthus, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso. The department is also rich in works by the circle of early American modernists around Alfred Stieglitz, including Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, and John Marin; large-scale paintings by Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko; and modern design, from Josef Hoffmann and members of the Wiener Werkstätte to Art Nouveau jewelry by René Lalique. The collection developed thanks to extraordinary gifts and bequests of works of art as well as acquisition funds. In recent years these holdings have been augmented by acquisitions of major collections—including the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th-century masterworks and the Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection of postwar paintings—as well as purchases of renowned single paintings, such as Jasper Johns's White Flag and Anselm Kiefer's Bohemia Lies by the Sea.
In 1987 the Museum opened the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing (galleries 900–925) dedicated to the display of modern and contemporary art.