After opening the Astrup Fearnley Museet in 1993 in Oslo, descendants of the famous Norwegian 19th Century romantic landscape painter Thomas Fearnley (1802 – 1842) and his son, the shipping magnate Thomas Fearnley (1841–1927) merged in 1995 two philanthropic foundations: The Thomas Fearnley Foundation, founded in 1939 by the (grand)son, the shipping magnate and collector, Thomas Fearnley (1880–1961) and the Heddy and Nils Astrup Foundation (named after Nils Ebbessøn Astrup, a maternal grandson of Thomas Fearnley (1841–1927).
The museum collection is mainly directed to international contemporary art, though it also has large section of Norwegian art. Spearpoints are German Abstract Expressionism, American and European pop-art, post-modern art of the 1980s, English modern painting (Young British Artists) and is currently much orientated to the American and international contemporary art scene, with artists like Doug Aitken, Matthew Barney, Olafur Eliasson, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Douglas Gordon, Cai Guo-Qiang. Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Bjarne Melgaard, Bruce Nauman, Shirin Neshat, Sigmar Polke, Richard Prince, Charles Ray, Jason Rhoades, Gerhard Richter, Tom Sachs and Cindy Sherman.
Since september 2012 the museum is located in its own Tjuvholmen skulpturpark, where it has more than 4000 m2 to its disposition for its collection and temporary expositions in the contemporary buildings designed by Renzo Piano.