Carnegie Museum of Art offers a distinguished collection of contemporary art that includes film and video works. Other collections of note include works of American art from the late 19th century, French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, and European and American decorative arts from the late 17th century to the present. The Heinz Architectural Center, opened as part of the museum in 1993, is dedicated to the collection, study, and exhibition of architectural drawings and models. The Hall of Architecture contains the largest collection of plaster casts of architectural masterpieces in America and one of the three largest in the world. The marble Hall of Sculpture replicates the interior of the Parthenon.

While most art museums founded at the turn of the century focused on collections of old masters, Andrew Carnegie envisioned a museum collection consisting of the “Old Masters of tomorrow.” In 1896, he initiated a series of exhibitions of contemporary art and proposed that the museum’s paintings collection be formed through purchases from this series. Carnegie, thereby, founded what is arguably the first museum of modern art in the United States. Early acquisitions of works by such artists as Winslow Homer, James McNeill Whistler, and Camille Pissarro laid the foundation for a collection that today is distinguished in American art from the mid-19th century to the present, in French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, and in significant late-20th-century works.

Over the century, the museum has amplified its scope of interest to include European and American decorative arts from the late 17th century to the present. Architect-designed objects figure prominently among recent acquisitions and complement the Heinz Architectural Center. In addition, the museum’s collection includes photography, film and video,  Asian art (notably Japanese prints), and African art.

In 1994, the museum completed a reinstallation of its pre-1945 American and European fine and decorative arts that combines them in a single chronological sequence. In 2003, the Scaife Galleries, home for many of the paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and decorative arts in the museum’s collection, reopened after a yearlong renovation. (Starting April 30, 2012, five of the 17 individual Scaife galleries [galleries 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8] will temporarily close for a major reinstallation. The newly reinstalled galleries will debut September 2012.) There is now a larger Works on Paper Gallery, and the contemporary art galleries incorporate decorative arts and works on paper along with paintings, sculpture, and film and video pieces. Some of the galleries now feature floor-to-ceiling, salon-style installations of the artwork. Resource areas and comfortable seating have also been integrated into the space. The Heinz Galleries are dedicated to the presentation of temporary changing exhibitions; they host three to five major exhibitions per year. In 2009, the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Galleries of decorative arts and design reopened after a complete renovation. The first major reinterpretation of the decorative arts collection in two decades, the installation traces the evolution of style and design in the Western world from the mid-18th century to the present.

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