Museum of Modern Art in New York City

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The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world. The museum's collection offers an unparalleled overview of modern and contemporary art, including works of architecture and design, drawings, painting, sculpture, photography, prints, illustrated books and artist's books, film, and electronic media.

MoMA's library and archives hold over 300,000 books, artist books, and periodicals, as well as individual files on more than 70,000 artists. The archives contain primary source material related to the history of modern and contemporary art. It also houses a restaurant, The Modern, run by Alsace-born chef Gabriel Kreuther.


The idea for The Museum of Modern Art was developed in 1928 primarily by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller Jr.) and two of her friends, Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan. They became known variously as "the Ladies", "the daring ladies" and "the adamantine ladies". They rented modest quarters for the new museum in rented spaces in the Heckscher Building at 730 Fifth Avenue (corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street) in Manhattan, and it opened to the public on November 7, 1929, nine days after the Wall Street Crash. Abby had invited A. Conger Goodyear, the former president of the board of trustees of the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, to become president of the new museum. Abby became treasurer. At the time, it was America's premier museum devoted exclusively to modern art, and the first of its kind in Manhattan to exhibit European modernism.

Goodyear enlisted Paul J. Sachs and Frank Crowninshield to join him as founding trustees. Sachs, the associate director and curator of prints and drawings at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, was referred to in those days as a collector of curators. Goodyear asked him to recommend a director and Sachs suggested Alfred H. Barr Jr., a promising young protege. Under Barr's guidance, the museum's holdings quickly expanded from an initial gift of eight prints and one drawing. Its first successful loan exhibition was in November 1929, displaying paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Seurat.

First housed in six rooms of galleries and offices on the twelfth floor of Manhattan's Heckscher Building, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, the museum moved into three more temporary locations within the next ten years. Abby's husband was adamantly opposed to the museum (as well as to modern art itself) and refused to release funds for the venture, which had to be obtained from other sources and resulted in the frequent shifts of location. Nevertheless, he eventually donated the land for the current site of the museum, plus other gifts over time, and thus became in effect one of its greatest benefactors.

During that time it initiated many more exhibitions of noted artists, such as the lone Vincent van Gogh exhibition on November 4, 1935. Containing an unprecedented sixty-six oils and fifty drawings from the Netherlands, and poignant excerpts from the artist's letters, it was a major public success and became "a precursor to the hold van Gogh has to this day on the contemporary imagination".

The museum also gained international prominence with the hugely successful and now famous Picasso retrospective of 1939–40, held in conjunction with the Art Institute of Chicago. In its range of presented works, it represented a significant reinterpretation of Picasso for future art scholars and historians. This was wholly masterminded by Barr, a Picasso enthusiast, and the exhibition lionized Picasso as the greatest artist of the time, setting the model for all the museum's retrospectives that were to follow.

When Abby Rockefeller's son Nelson was selected by the board of trustees to become its flamboyant president in 1939, at the age of thirty, he became the prime instigator and funder of its publicity, acquisitions and subsequent expansion into new headquarters on 53rd Street. His brother, David Rockefeller, also joined the museum's board of trustees, in 1948, and took over the presidency when Nelson took up position as Governor of New York in 1958.

David subsequently employed the noted architect Philip Johnson to redesign the museum garden and name it in honor of his mother, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. He and the Rockefeller family in general have retained a close association with the museum throughout its history, with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund funding the institution since 1947. Both David Rockefeller, Jr. and Sharon Percy Rockefeller (wife of Senator Jay Rockefeller) currently sit on the board of trustees. In 1937, MoMA had shifted to offices and basement galleries in the Time-Life Building in Rockefeller Center. Its permanent and current home, now renovated, designed in the International Style by the modernist architects Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone, opened to the public on May 10, 1939, attended by an illustrious company of 6,000 people, and with an opening address via radio from the White House by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.. In 1997 the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi beat out ten other international architects to win the competition to execute the redesign of the museum, which after being closed in Manhattan for a time during the process (a temporary space was opened in Long Island City, Queens) reopened in 2004. Wish Tree, Yoko Ono's installation in the Sculpture Garden (since July 2010), has become very popular with contributions from all over the world.


Considered by many to have the best collection of modern Western masterpieces in the world, MoMA's holdings include more than 150,000 individual pieces in addition to approximately 22,000 films and 4 million film stills. The collection houses such important and familiar works as the following:

  • The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh
  • The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau
  • I and the Village by Marc Chagall
  • The Dream by Henri Rousseau
  • Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso
  • The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí
  • Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian
  • Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol
  • Te aa no areois (The Seed of the Areoi) by Paul Gauguin
  • Water Lilies triptych by Claude Monet
  • The Dance by Henri Matisse
  • The Bather by Paul Cézanne
  • The City Rises by Umberto Boccioni
  • Love Song by Giorgio De Chirico
  • Number 31, 1950 by Jackson Pollock
  • Vir Heroicus Sublimis by Barnett Newman
  • Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman
  • Flag by Jasper Johns
  • Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth
  • Self-Portrait With Cropped Hair by Frida Kahlo
  • Painting (1946) by Francis Bacon
  • Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale by Max Ernst

Selected collection highlights

It also holds works by a wide range of influential European and American artists including Georges Braque, Marcel Duchamp, Walker Evans, Helen Frankenthaler, Alberto Giacometti, Arshile Gorky, Hans Hofmann, Edward Hopper, Paul Klee, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Dorothea Lange, Fernand Léger, Roy Lichtenstein, Morris Louis, René Magritte, Aristide Maillol, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Kenneth Noland, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Auguste Rodin, Mark Rothko, David Smith, Frank Stella, and hundreds of others.

MoMA developed a world-renowned art photography collection, first under Edward Steichen and then John Szarkowski, which included photos by Todd Webb, as well as an important film collection under Museum of Modern Art Department of Film. The film collection owns prints of many familiar feature-length movies, including Citizen Kane and Vertigo, but the department's holdings also contains many less-traditional pieces, including Andy Warhol's eight-hour Empire and Chris Cunningham's music video for Björk's All Is Full of Love. MoMA also has an important design collection, which includes works from such legendary designers as Paul László, the Eameses, Isamu Noguchi, and George Nelson. The design collection also contains many industrial and manufactured pieces, ranging from a self-aligning ball bearing to an entire Bell 47D1 helicopter.

Architecture and Design

MoMA's Department of Architecture and Design was founded in 1932, as the first in the world dedicated to the topic. The department's first director was Philip Johnson who served as curator between 1932-34 and 1946-54. The collection consists of 28,000 works including architectural models, drawings and photographs.

Officers and the Board of Trustees

  • Honorary Chairman – David Rockefeller
  • Honorary Chairman – Ronald S. Lauder
  • Chairman Emeritus – Robert B. Menschel
  • President Emerita – Agnes Gund
  • President Emeritus – Donald B. Marron
  • Chairman – Jerry I. Speyer
  • President – Marie-Josée Kravis
Vice Chairmen
  • Sid R. Bass
  • Leon D. Black
  • Mimi Haas
  • Richard E. Salomon
  • Director – Glenn D. Lowry
  • Treasurer – Richard E. Salomon
  • Assistant Treasurer – James Gara
  • Secretary – Patty Lipshultz

Board of Trustees

Board of Trustees
  • Wallis Annenberg
  • Sid R. Bass
  • Lawrence B. Benenson
  • Leon D. Black
  • Clarissa Alcock Bronfman
  • Donald L. Bryant, Jr.
  • Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
  • Paula Crown
  • David Dechman
  • Glenn Dubin
  • Joel S. Ehrenkranz
  • John Elkann
  • Laurence D. Fink
  • Kathleen Fuld
  • Howard Gardner
  • Anne Dias Griffin
  • Agnes Gund
  • Mimi Haas
  • Alexandra A. Herzan
  • Marlene Hess
  • Jill Kraus
  • Marie-Josée Kravis
  • Ronald S. Lauder
  • Thomas H. Lee
  • Michael Lynne
  • Donald B. Marron
  • Philip S. Niarchos
  • James G. Niven
  • Peter Norton
  • Maja Oeri
  • Michael S. Ovitz
  • Richard D. Parsons
  • Emily Rauh Pulitzer
  • David Rockefeller, Jr.
  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller
  • Richard E. Salomon
  • Anna Marie Shapiro
  • Anna Deavere Smith
  • Jerry I. Speyer
  • Ricardo Steinbruch
  • Edgar Wachenheim III
  • Gary Winnick
Life Trustees
  • Celeste Bartos
  • Eli Broad
  • Douglas Cramer
  • Gianluigi Gabetti
  • Barbara Jakobson
  • Werner H. Kramarsky
  • June Noble Larkin
  • Robert B. Menschel
  • Peter G. Peterson
  • Gifford Phillips
  • David Rockefeller
  • Joanne M. Stern
  • Jeanne C. Thayer
  • Joan Tisch
Honorary Trustees
  • Lin Arison
  • Mrs. Jan Cowles
  • Lewis B. Cullman
  • H.R.H. Duke Franz of Bavaria
  • Maurice R. Greenberg
  • Wynton Marsalis
  • Richard E. Oldenburg*
  • Mrs. Milton Petrie
  • Lord Rogers of Riverside
  • Ted Sann
  • Gilbert Silverman
  • Yoshio Taniguchi
  • David Teiger
  • Eugene V. Thaw

Chief Curators

  • Klaus Biesenbach Director of MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator at Large from 2009
  • Barry Bergdoll, Chief Curator of Architecture and Design from 2007
  • Sabine Breitwieser, Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art from 2010
  • Connie Butler, Chief Curator of Drawings from 2005
  • Peter Galassi, Chief Curator of Photography from 1991
  • Rajendra Roy, Chief Curator of Film from 2007
  • Ann Temkin, Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture from 2008
  • Christophe Cherix, Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books from 2010


In 1969 the Art Workers Coalition (AWC), a group of New York City artists who opposed the Vietnam War, in collaboration with Museum of Modern Art members Arthur Drexler and Elizabeth Shaw, created an iconic protest poster called And babies which depicts US soldiers as "baby killers." The poster uses an image by photojournalist Ronald L. Haeberle and references the My Lai Massacre. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) had promised to fund and circulate the poster, but after seeing the 2 by 3 foot poster MoMA pulled financing for the project at the last minute. MoMA's Board of Trustees included Nelson Rockefeller and William S. Paley (head of CBS), who reportedly "hit the ceiling" on seeing the proofs of the poster. Nevertheless, under the sole sponsorship of the AWC, 50,000 posters were printed by New York City's lithographers union. On December 26, 1969, a grassroots network of volunteer artists, students and peace activists began circulating it worldwide.<ref name=frascina/><ref name=selz/> Many newspapers and television shows re-printed images of the poster, consumer poster versions soon followed, and it was carried in protest marches around the world, all further increasing its viewership. In a further protest of MoMA's decision to pull out of the project, copies of the poster were carried by members of the AWC into the MoMA and unfurled in front of Picasso's painting Guernica (on loan to MoMA at the time) the painting depicts the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon innocent civilians.<ref name=frascina/> The poster was included shortly thereafter in MoMA's Information exhibition of July 2 to September 20, 1970, curated by Kynaston McShine.

See also

  • List of museums and cultural institutions in New York City
  • Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
  • Rene d'Harnoncourt
  • Dorothy Canning Miller
  • John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  • Talk to Me (exhibition)

Further reading

  • Allan, Kenneth R. "Understanding Information," in Conceptual Art: Theory, Myth, and Practice. Ed. Michael Corris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 144-168.
  • Bee, Harriet S. and Michelle Elligott. Art in Our Time. A Chronicle of the Museum of Modern Art, New York 2004, .
  • Fitzgerald, Michael C. Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-Century Art. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995.
  • Geiger, Stephan. The Art of Assemblage. The Museum of Modern Art, 1961. Die neue Realität der Kunst in den frühen sechziger Jahren, (Diss. University Bonn 2005), München 2008, .
  • Harr, John Ensor and Peter J. Johnson. The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America's Greatest Family. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988.
  • Kert, Bernice. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family. New York: Random House, 1993.
  • Lynes, Russell, Good Old Modern: An Intimate Portrait of the Museum of Modern Art, New York: Athenaeum, 1973.
  • Reich, Cary. The Life of Nelson A. Rockefeller: Worlds to Conquer 1908–1958. New York: Doubleday, 1996.
  • Rockefeller, David. Memoirs. New York: Random House, 2002.
  • Schulze, Franz. Philip Johnson: Life and Work. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1996.
  • Staniszewski, Mary Anne. The Power of Display. A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art, MIT Press 1998, .
  • Wilson, Kristina. The Modern Eye: Stieglitz, MoMA, and the Art of the Exhibition, 1925-1934. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

External links