The year 1990 in art involved some significant events and new works.
- 18 March – Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft: Twelve paintings, collectively worth from $100 to $300 million, are stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts by two thieves posing as police officers. This is the largest art theft in United States history and the largest-value theft of private property in world history, and the paintings (as of 2019[update]) have not been recovered.
- 6 April – Robert Mapplethorpe's "The Perfect Moment" show of nude and homosexual photographs opens at the Cincinnati Contemporary Art Centre, in spite of accusations of indecency by Citizens for Community Values.
- 15 May – Portrait of Doctor Gachet by Vincent van Gogh is sold for a record $82.5 million.
- East Side Gallery, 105 paintings by 129 artists from 20 countries, is painted on the east side of the Berlin Wall in Germany following its abandonment. It includes Dmitri Vrubel's My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love and Birgit Kinder's Test the Best (renamed Test the Rest after restoration).
- John Keane is commissioned by the British Imperial War Museum as an official war artist in the Gulf War.
- British Art Show at Hayward Gallery includes work by Young British Artists
- Jim Gary's Twentieth Century Dinosaurs opened on April 12, 1990, the only solo exhibition by a sculptor at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., that drew a record number of visitors to the museum
- Peine Del Viento XVII – Eduardo Chillida
- Bell Circles II (sound installation, Portland, Oregon) – Robert Coburn
- Desert Quartet (sculpture, Worthing, England) – Elisabeth Frink
- Meaning and Location – Douglas Gordon
- A Thousand Years – Damien Hirst
- September Defeat – Tadeusz Kantor
- Friendship Circle (installation, Portland, Oregon) – Lee Kelly with Michael Stirling
- Packy mural (Portland, Oregon) – Eric Larsen
- Cancer, There Is Hope (bronze, Houston, Texas) – Victor Salmones
- Ghost – Rachel Whiteread
- Turner Prize – No prize was offered because of lack of sponsorship.
- January – Daniel du Janerand, French painter (b. 1919)
- 22 January – Roman Vishniac, Russian-American photographer (b. 1897)
- 15 February – Norman Parkinson, English fashion photographer (b. 1913)
- 16 February – Keith Haring, American artist and social activist (b. 1958)
- 15 March – Jim Ede, English art collector (b. 1895)
- 21 April – Romain de Tirtoff, Russian-born French artist and designer (b. 1892)
- May – Fuller Potter, American Abstract expressionist artist (b. 1910)
- 30 June – Jacques Lob, French comic book creator (b. 1932)
- 18 July – Yves Chaland, French cartoonist (b. 1957)
- 23 July – Pierre Gandon, French illustrator and engraver of postage stamps (b. 1899)
- 25 July – Leonard Bahr, American portrait and mural painter (b. 1905)
- 14 October – Clifton Pugh, Australian artist (b. 1924)
- 26 October – Joan Brown, American figurative painter (b. 1938)
- 7 December – Jean Paul Lemieux, Canadian-American painter (b. 1904)
- 8 December – Tadeusz Kantor, Polish painter, assemblage artist, set designer and theatre director (b. 1915)
- 23 December – Serge Danot, French animator (b. 1931)
- 28 December – Ed van der Elsken, Dutch photographer (b. 1925)