As a contemporary art museum, the Yellowstone Art Museum primarily collects recent work by artists who were part of the artistic vanguard of their time, and who live or work in a region that includes the Northern Plains and Northern Rocky Mountains. This collection has rich stories to tell about the unique social, cultural, and physical landscape of the Mountain West and Northern Plains. It also reflects our region’s contradictions, complexities, interconnections, and relationships with the outside world.
The Yellowstone Art Center began collecting soon after its founding in 1964. Without concise collecting guidelines, some of the earliest acquisitions included European prints and decorative arts by anonymous makers, as well as ceramics, prints, and paintings by Montana artists.
In 1974, the YAM received the first installment of the Poindexter Collection of Abstract Expressionism, and received the final gift from the Poindexter family in 2005. George and Elinor Poindexter were motivated to share beyond New York examples of the exciting new American art that Elinor featured in her New York gallery. As George stated, “I am giving them [the paintings] in the hopes that the pleasure they have given me will be shared by the people of my native state.” The YAM’s Poindexter Collection complements the Montana Historical Society’s Poindexter Collection.
Collecting gained direction and priority in the early 1980s. New acquisition guidelines emphasized 1) contemporary regional art, 2) regional art of historic, artistic distinction, and 3) recent art of international significance. In 1984, a one-time purchase fund became available from the Montana Cultural Trust, and a four-year program ensued to acquire work by a list of Montana’s twenty leading artists. Progress continued through the generosity of exceptional donors. Not least among these was Miriam Sample, whose gifts of art and funds enabled the YAM to acquire 220 new works for the Montana Collection.
In 2009, the Yellowstone Art Museum was selected as the Montana recipient of a gift of 50 Conceptual and Minimalist works from the private collection of Herbert and Dorothy Vogel. Their collection was donated to the National Gallery of Art and to one museum in every state under a program called “50 Works for 50 States,” administered by the National Gallery of Art.
The Peter Norton Family Collection was completed in 2019. After receiving the final gift, which serves as a colophon for the series, the YAM used funds from its collections endowment to fill the gaps in the collection.
The YAM’s art collection continues to grow primarily through donations of art and purchase funds and interest from an endowment designated for collections purchases.