Indeterminate art invokes a perceptual dilemma in which apparently detailed and vivid images resist identification. We used event-related fMRI to study visual perception of representational, indeterminate and abstract paintings. We hypothesized increased activation along a gradient of posterior-to-anterior ventral visual areas with increased object resolution, and postulated that object resolution would be associated with visual imagery. Behaviorally, subjects were faster to recognize familiar objects in representational than in both indeterminate and abstract paintings. We found activation within a distributed cortical network that includes visual, parietal, limbic and prefrontal regions. Representational paintings, which depict scenes cluttered with familiar objects, evoked stronger activation than indeterminate and abstract paintings in higher-tier visual areas. Perception of scrambled paintings was associated with imagery-related activation in the precuneus and prefrontal cortex. Finally, representational paintings evoked stronger activation than indeterminate paintings in the temporoparietal junction. Our results suggest that perception of familiar content in art works is mediated by object recognition, memory recall and mental imagery, cognitive processes that evoke activation within a distributed cortical network.