The metamorphosis from private collection to public museum is an extraordinary transition. For the Guggenheim Museum this occurred in 1937, when Solomon R. Guggenheim established a foundation with the goal of opening a museum to publicly exhibit and preserve his holdings of nonobjective art. Guggenheim, an industrialist turned impassioned art collector, had begun to amass his modern art collection eight years prior under the guidance of the German painter Hilla Rebay. Although a great champion of nonobjective art—a method of abstraction that aspired to spiritual and utopian goals—Guggenheim also actively sought work that did not fit the mold of nonobjectivity, acquiring paintings by Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani, and Henri Rousseau.
Since that time, the museum's founding collection has been enhanced through major gifts and purchases from individuals who share Guggenheim's spirit. These acquisitions include eminent gallery director Karl Nierendorf's inventory of German Expressionist and early Abstract Expressionist art; Solomon's niece Peggy Guggenheim's collection of abstract and Surrealist painting and sculpture; Justin K. Thannhauser's array of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early modern masterpieces; and important works from the estates of visionaries Rebay and Katherine S. Dreier. All brought to light some of the most significant artists of the twentieth century, and their personal compilations have been incorporated over the years into one comprehensive array of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century avant-garde art at the Guggenheim Museum.
True to its original mission to promote "the art of tomorrow," the foundation is committed to increasing its holdings of contemporary art today. The Bohen Foundation, a private charitable organization that commissions new works of art with an emphasis on film, video, and new media, gave the foundation its entire collection in 2001. Complete with 277 works by 46 artists such as Willie Doherty, Pierre Huyghe, and Jac Leirner, this gift immeasurably enriched and expanded the museum's collection of modern and contemporary art. The gift allows the museum to present a vital and dynamic cross-section of art at the turn of the millennium, and likewise continues the story of its unique collection and how it continues to evolve.