New Orleans Museum of Art Names Japanese Art Galleries in Honor of Kurt Gitter and Alice Yelen Gitter

New Orleans Museum of Art Names Japanese Art Galleries in Honor of Kurt Gitter and Alice Yelen Gitter

The dedication celebrates over 50 years of support building the museum’s Japanese art collection with an emphasis on Edo-period painting and contemporary sculpture.

The newly dedicated gallery opens to the public this Friday, May 10, with the exhibition Envisioning Japan: Transformational Gifts from Kurt A. Gitter, MD and Alice Yelen Gitter.

Continuing over five decades of philanthropy, Kurt Gitter and Alice Yelen Gitter recently donated 50 works from their collection to NOMA.

NEW ORLEANS – Today, the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) announced the dedication of its third-floor Japanese art gallery in honor of longtime museum supporters and patrons. The Kurt A. Gitter, MD and Alice Yelen Gitter Gallery will open to the public on Friday, May 10, with a new installation Envisioning Japan: Transformational Gifts from Kurt A. Gitter, MD and Alice Yelen Gitter.

“Kurt Gitter and Alice Yelen Gitter have had an indelible impact on NOMA’s permanent collection, exhibitions, and presentations of Japanese art,” said Susan M. Taylor, The Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of NOMA. “Their contributions solidified Edo period painting and contemporary Japanese ceramics as two important areas of NOMA’s collection.”

Since the 1970s, NOMA has prioritized the collection and presentation of Japanese art within the museum’s global collection. This was a direct outgrowth of the Gitters’ connection to the museum, and enthusiasm shared by the Gitters and NOMA’s Director Emeritus E. John Bullard.  

Over the course of five decades, the Gitters have donated nearly 350 works of art to NOMA and facilitated the donation of scores of other gifts from friends, family, and colleagues. These donations, both direct and indirect, form the core of NOMA’s Japanese art collection, which prior to 1972 had only six paintings.

At a time when Edo-period painting was extremely underappreciated in the United States, Kurt Gitter and his then spouse Millie inspired and encouraged the development of NOMA’s collection in this area—a legacy continued by Gitter and Alice Yelen Gitter, who, beginning in the mid-1980s created parallel collections of contemporary Japanese ceramics and American self-taught art.

“Kurt’s significant foresight allowed NOMA to prioritize collecting Edo-period painting at a time when other museums were not doing so,” said Lisa Rotondo-McCord, NOMA’s Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Asian Art. “The Gitters’ dedication to Japanese art, and their continual support has ensured that the museum’s collection has continued to grow in both size and significance.”

While the Gitters have broadly supported the field of Japanese art through a number of institutions, NOMA remains at the center of their giving in this area, recently donating over 50 works to the collection, including historic paintings and contemporary ceramic works. This significant gift will ensure that NOMA maintains its position as one of the major collections of Edo-period painting in the United States.

On Friday, May 10, NOMA opens the installation Envisioning Japan: Transformational Gifts from Kurt A. Gitter MD and Alice Yelen Gitter in the newly dedicated gallery on the museum’s third floor. This exhibition, the first in a series that will be held over the next 18 months, pairs recent and previous donations of paintings by Zen and literati-style painters, echoing the first major exhibition of the Gitter Collection at NOMA, Zenga and Nanga: Paintings by Japanese Monks and Scholars in 1976. Also on view are selections from their donations of modern and contemporary Japanese ceramics. Before the gallery opens to the public, the Gitters will be honored in a private reception at the museum.

Dating back to Zenga and Nanga in 1976, the museum has organized eight exhibitions drawn in whole or in part from the Gitter Collection—including Japanese Fan Paintings from Western Collections (1986), which traveled to the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; Zenga: Brushstrokes of Enlightenment (1990), which traveled to the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Lost Angeles County Museum of Art; Enduring Vision: 17th–20th Century Japanese Paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection (2002), which traveled to the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Japan Society, New York, and the San Diego Museum of Art; The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin (2011), which traveled to the Japan Society and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and New Forms, New Voices (2017), the first exhibition of the Gitters’ collection of modern and contemporary Japanese ceramics.

In March, the Japan Society in New York opened the exhibition None Whatsoever: Zen Paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, which explores the origins of Zen Buddhism through over four centuries of ink paintings and calligraphies by painter-monks.

For 50 years, the Gitters have been dedicated to increasing scholarly and public access to Japanese art through significant donations to institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution (formerly Freer Gallery of Art). In the past decade, they have made substantial donations and undertaken significant gift/purchase agreements with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  


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New Orleans Museum of Art

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New Orleans Museum of Art


About NOMA and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden

The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and its Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden are home to innovative exhibitions, installations, educational programs, and research. Exploring human creativity across time, cultures, and disciplines, the global scope of the museum’s initiatives open a vibrant dialogue with the history and culture of New Orleans. The museum stewards a collection of nearly 50,000 works, with exceptional holdings in African art, photography, decorative arts, and Japanese art, as well as strengths in American and French art, and an expanding collection highlighting contemporary artists. The museum’s exhibitions and dynamic learning and engagement offerings serve as a forum for visitors to engage with diverse perspectives, share cultural experiences, and foster a life of learning at all ages. Recent exhibitions include Black Orpheus: Jacob Lawrence and the Mbari Club, Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers, The Orléans Collection (an exhibition of forty European masterpieces from the collection of the city’s namesake, Philippe II, Duc d’Orléans), East of the Mississippi: Nineteenth Century America Landscape Photography, and Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories (seven contemporary art projects focusing on reimagining stories from the city’s past).

NOMA’s 12-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden expands visitors’ experiences of the museum with one of the most notable sculpture gardens in the country. The Besthoff Sculpture Garden, free and open to the public seven days a week, has nearly 100 sculptures and outdoor works of art situated in a unique landscape featuring Spanish moss-laden live oaks and a sinuous lagoon surrounded by an expansive ecosystem of native plants. The works in the garden range from the 19th to the 21st centuries, with pieces by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Louise Bourgeois, Ida Kohlmeyer, Claes Oldenburg, Sean Scully, Maya Lin, Do Ho Suh, Ugo Rondinone, Wangechi Mutu, Hank Willis Thomas, and many others. The Besthoff Sculpture Garden features contemporary design elements—including a sculpture pavilion, an amphitheater, and an architecturally significant canal link bridge connecting the garden’s original 2003 footprint with a 2019 expansion. Its water management practices support the health and resiliency of New Orleans City Park and the surrounding environment. Throughout the year, NOMA hosts outdoor programs in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden including festivals, performances, wellness classes, tours, and more.