Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is an art museum located in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, on 53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

Museum of Modern Art
EstablishedNovember 7, 1929 (1929-11-07)
Location11 West 53rd Street
Manhattan, New York City
Coordinates40.7616°N 73.9776°W / 40.7616; -73.9776
TypeArt museum
Visitors2.8 million (2016)[1]
Ranked 13th globally (2013)[2]
DirectorGlenn D. Lowry
Public transit accessSubway: Fifth Avenue/53rd Street ( trains)
Bus: M1, M2, M3, M4, M5, M7, M10, M20, M50, M104

MoMA plays a major role in developing and collecting modern art, and is often identified as one of the largest and most influential museums of modern art in the world.[3] MoMA's collection offers an overview of modern and contemporary art, including works of architecture and design, drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, prints, illustrated books and artist's books, film, and electronic media.[4]

The MoMA Library includes approximately 300,000 books and exhibition catalogs, over 1,000 periodical titles, and over 40,000 files of ephemera about individual artists and groups.[5] The archives hold primary source material related to the history of modern and contemporary art.[6]


Heckscher and other buildings (1929–39)

The idea for the Museum of Modern Art was developed in 1929 primarily by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) and two of her friends, Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan.[7] They became known variously as "the Ladies" or "the adamantine ladies".[8][9] They rented modest quarters for the new museum in the Heckscher Building at 730 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan,[8] and it opened to the public on November 7, 1929, nine days after the Wall Street Crash.[10] Abby Rockefeller 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 Rockefeller 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.[11] One of Abby Rockefeller's early recruits for the museum staff was the noted Japanese-American photographer Soichi Sunami (at that time best known for his portraits of modern dance pioneer Martha Graham), who served the museum as its official documentary photographer from 1930 until 1968.[12][13]

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 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.[14]

First housed in six rooms of galleries and offices on the twelfth floor of Manhattan's Heckscher Building,[15] on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, the museum moved into three more temporary locations within the next ten years. Abby Rockefeller's husband, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., 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.[16]:376, 386

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, as well as poignant excerpts from the artist's letters, it was a major public success due to Barr's arrangement of the exhibit, and became "a precursor to the hold van Gogh has to this day on the contemporary imagination".[16]:376

53rd Street (1939–present)

1930s and 1940s

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.[17] Boy Leading a Horse was briefly contested over ownership with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.[18] In 1941, MoMA hosted the ground-breaking exhibition, Indian Art of the United States (curated by Frederic Huntington Douglas and Rene d'Harnoncourt), that changed the way American Indian arts were viewed by the public and exhibited in art museums.

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 was elected 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 L. 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.[19]

1958 fire

On April 15, 1958, a fire on the second floor destroyed an 18 foot long Monet Water Lilies painting (the current Monet water lilies was acquired shortly after the fire as a replacement). The fire started when workmen installing air conditioning were smoking near paint cans, sawdust, and a canvas dropcloth. One worker was killed in the fire and several firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation. Most of the paintings on the floor had been moved for the construction although large paintings including the Monet were left. Art work on the 3rd and 4th floors were evacuated to the Whitney Museum of American Art, which abutted it on the 54th Street side. Among the paintings that were moved was A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, which had been on loan by the Art Institute of Chicago. Visitors and employees above the fire were evacuated to the roof and then jumped to the roof of an adjoining townhouse.[20]


In 1969, the MoMA was at the center of a controversy over its decision to withdraw funding from the iconic anti-war poster And babies. 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,[21] created an iconic protest poster called And babies. 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.[22][23] 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.[22] The poster was included shortly thereafter in MoMA's Information exhibition of July 2 to September 20, 1970, curated by Kynaston McShine.[24] Another controversy involved Pablo Picasso's painting Boy Leading a Horse (1905–06), donated to MoMA by William S. Paley in 1964. The status of the work as being sold under duress by its German Jewish owners in the 1930s was in dispute. The descendants of the original owners sued MoMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which has another Picasso painting, Le Moulin de la Galette (1900),[25] once owned by the same family, for return of the works. Both museums reached a confidential settlement with the descendants before the case went to trial and retained their respective paintings.[26][27][28] Both museums had claimed from the outset to be the proper owners of these paintings, and that the claims were illegitimate. In a joint statement the two museums wrote: "we settled simply to avoid the costs of prolonged litigation, and to ensure the public continues to have access to these important paintings."[29]


In 1983 the Museum more than doubled its gallery and increased curatorial department by 30 percent, and added an auditorium, two restaurants and a bookstore in conjunction with the construction of the 56-story Museum Tower adjoining the museum.[30]

In 1997, the museum undertook a major renovation and expansion designed by Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi with Kohn Pedersen Fox. The project, including an increase in MoMA's endowment to cover operating expenses, cost $858 million in total. The project nearly doubled the space for MoMA's exhibitions and programs and features 630,000 square feet (59,000 m2) of space. The Peggy and David Rockefeller Building on the western portion of the site houses the main exhibition galleries, and The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building provides space for classrooms, auditoriums, teacher training workshops, and the museum's expanded Library and Archives. These two buildings frame the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, which was enlarged from its original configuration.

21st century

The museum was closed for two years in connection with the renovation and moved its public-facing operations to a temporary facility called MoMA QNS in Long Island City, Queens. When MoMA reopened in 2004, the renovation was controversial. Some critics thought that Taniguchi's design was a fine example of contemporary architecture, while many others were displeased with aspects of the design, such as the flow of the space.[31][32][33] In 2005, the museum sold land that it owned west of its existing building to Hines, a Texas real estate developer, under an agreement that reserved space on the lower levels of the building Hines planned to construct there for a MoMA expansion.[34]

In 2011, MoMA acquired an adjacent building constructed and occupied by the American Folk Art Museum on West 53rd Street. The building was a well-regarded structure designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and was sold in connection with a financial restructuring of the Folk Art Museum.[35] When MoMA announced that it was going to demolish the building in connection with its expansion, there was outcry and considerable discussion about the issue, but the museum ultimately proceeded with its original plans.[36]

The Hines building, designed by Jean Nouvel and called 53W53, received construction approval in 2014.[37] Around the time of Hines' construction approval, MoMA unveiled its expansion plans, which encompass space in 53W53, as well as construction on the former site of the American Folk Art Museum.[38] The expansion plan was developed by the architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler. The first phase of construction began in 2014. In June 2017, patrons and the public were welcomed into MoMA to see the completion of the first phase of the $450 million expansion to the museum.[39]

Spread over three floors of the art mecca off Fifth Avenue are 15,000 square-feet (about 1,400 square-meters) of reconfigured galleries, a new, second gift shop, a redesigned cafe and espresso bar and, facing the sculpture garden, two lounges graced with black marble quarried in France.[39]

The museum expansion project increased the publicly accessibly space by 25% compared to when the Tanaguchi building was completed in 2004.[40] The expansion allowed for even more of the museum's collection of nearly 200,000 works to be displayed.[39] The new spaces also allow visitors to enjoy a relaxing sit-down in one of the two new lounges, or even have a fully catered meal.[39] The two new lounges include "The Marlene Hess and James D. Zirin Lounge" and "The Daniel and Jane Och Lounge".[39][41] The goal of this renovation is to help expand the collection and display of work by women, Latinos, blacks, Asians, and other marginalized communities.[42] In connection with the renovation, MoMA shifted its approach to presenting its holdings, moving away from separating the collection by disciplines such as painting, design and works on paper toward an integrated chronological presentation that encompasses all areas of the collection.[40]

The Museum of Modern Art was closed for another round of major renovations from June to October 2019.[42][43] Upon reopening on October 21, 2019, MoMA added 47,000 square feet (4,400 m2) of gallery space,[44] and its total floor area was 708,000 square feet (65,800 m2).[45] The expansion and refurbishment was overseen by the architectural firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.[46]

Exhibition houses

The MoMA occasionally has sponsored and hosted temporary exhibition houses, which have reflected seminal ideas in architectural history.


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. (Access to the collection of film stills ended in 2002, and the collection is mothballed in a vault in Hamlin, Pennsylvania.[50]) The collection houses such important and familiar works as the following:

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 (1947-1961) and then under Steichen's hand-picked successor John Szarkowski (1962-1991), which included photos by Todd Webb.[51] The department was founded by Beaumont Newhall in 1940.[52] Under Szarkowski, it focused on a more traditionally modernist approach to the medium, one that emphasized documentary images and orthodox darkroom techniques.


In 1932, museum founder Alfred Barr stressed the importance of introducing "the only great art form peculiar to the twentieth century" to "the American public which should appreciate good films and support them". Museum Trustee and film producer John Hay Whitney became the first chairman of the Museum's Film Library from 1935 to 1951. The collection Whitney assembled with the help of film curator Iris Barry was so successful that in 1937 the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences commended the Museum with an award "for its significant work in collecting films ... and for the first time making available to the public the means of studying the historical and aesthetic development of the motion picture as one of the major arts".[53]

The first curator and founder of the Film Library was Iris Barry, a British film critic and author, whose three decades of pioneering work in collecting films and presenting them in coherent artistic and historical contexts gained recognition for the cinema as the major new art form of our century. Barry and her successors have built a collection comprising some eight thousand titles today, concentrating on assembling an outstanding collection of the important works of international film art, with emphasis being placed on obtaining the highest-quality materials.[54]

The exiled film scholar Siegfried Kracauer worked at the MoMA film archive on a psychological history of German film between 1941 and 1943. The result of his study, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (1947), traces the birth of Nazism from the cinema of the Weimar Republic and helped lay the foundation of modern film criticism.

Under the Museum of Modern Art Department of Film, the film collection includes more than 25,000 titles and ranks as one of the world's finest museum archives of international film art. The department owns prints of many familiar feature-length movies, including Citizen Kane and Vertigo, but its holdings also contains many less-traditional pieces, including Andy Warhol's eight-hour Empire, Fred Halsted's gay pornographic L.A. Plays Itself (screened before a capacity audience on April 23, 1974), various TV commercials, and Chris Cunningham's music video for Björk's All Is Full of Love.


The MoMA library is located in Midtown Manhattan, with offsite storage in Long Island City, Queens. The non-circulating collection documents modern and contemporary art including painting, sculpture, prints, photography, film, performance, and architecture from 1880–present. The collection includes 300,000 books, 1,000 periodicals, and 40,000 files about artists and artistic groups. There are over 10,000 artist books in the collection.[55] The libraries are open by appointment to all researchers. The library's catalogue is called "Dadabase".[5] Dadabase includes records for all of the material in the library, including books, artist books, exhibition catalogue, special collections materials, and electronic resources.[5] The Museum of Modern Art's collection of artist books includes works by Ed Ruscha, Marcel Broodthaers, Susan Bee, Carl Andre, and David Horvitz.[56]

Additionally, the library has subscription electronic resources along with Dadabase. These include journal databases (such as JSTOR and Art Full Text), auction results indexes (ArtFact and Artnet), the ARTstor image database, and WorldCat union catalog.[57]

Architecture and design

MoMA's Department of Architecture and Design was founded in 1932[58] as the first museum department in the world dedicated to the intersection of architecture and design.[59] The department's first director was Philip Johnson who served as curator between 1932–34 and 1946–54.[60] The next departmental head was Arthur Drexler, who was curator from 1951 to 1956 and then served as head until 1986.[61]

The collection consists of 28,000 works including architectural models, drawings and photographs.[58] One of the highlights of the collection is the Mies van der Rohe Archive.[59] It also includes works from such legendary architects and designers as Frank Lloyd Wright,[62][63][64][65] Paul László, the Eameses, Betty Cooke, Isamu Noguchi, and George Nelson. The design collection contains many industrial and manufactured pieces, ranging from a self-aligning ball bearing to an entire Bell 47D1 helicopter. In 2012, the department acquired a selection of 14 video games, the basis of an intended collection of 40 that is to range from Pac-Man (1980) to Minecraft (2011).[66]



MoMA has seen its average number of visitors rise from about 1.5 million a year to 2.5 million after its new granite and glass renovation. In 2009, the museum reported 119,000 members and 2.8 million visitors over the previous fiscal year. MoMA attracted its highest-ever number of visitors, 3.09 million, during its 2010 fiscal year;[67] however, attendance dropped 11 percent to 2.8 million in 2011.[68] Attendance in 2016 was 2.8 million, down from 3.1 million in 2015.[1]

The museum was open every day since its founding in 1929, until 1975, when it closed one day a week (originally Wednesdays) to reduce operating expenses. In 2012, it again opened every day, including Tuesday, the one day it has traditionally been closed.[69]


The Museum of Modern Art charges an admission fee of $25 per adult.[70] Upon MoMA's reopening, its admission cost increased from $12 to $20, making it one of the most expensive museums in the city. However, it has free entry on Fridays after 4:00 pm, as part of the Uniqlo Free Friday Nights program. Many New York area college students also receive free admission to the museum.[71]


A private non-profit organization, MoMA is the seventh-largest U.S. museum by budget;[72] its annual revenue is about $145 million (none of which is profit). In 2011, the museum reported net assets (basically, a total of all the resources it has on its books, except the value of the art) of just over $1 billion.

Unlike most museums, the museum eschews government funding, instead subsisting on a fragmented budget with a half-dozen different sources of income, none larger than a fifth.[73] Before the economic crisis of late 2008, the MoMA's board of trustees decided to sell its equities in order to move into an all-cash position. An $858 million capital campaign funded the 2002–04 expansion,[72] with David Rockefeller donating $77 million in cash. In 2005, Rockefeller pledged an additional $100 million toward the museum's endowment.[74] In 2011, Moody's Investors Service, a bond rating agency, rated $57 million worth of new debt in 2010 with a positive outlook and echoed their Aa2 bond credit rating for the underlying institution. The agency noted that MoMA has "superior financial flexibility with over $332 million of unrestricted financial resources", and has had solid attendance and record sales at its retail outlets around the city and online. Some of the challenges that Moody's noted were the reliance that the museum has on the tourist industry in New York for its operating revenue, and a large amount of debt. The museum at the time had a 2.4 debt-to-operating revenues ratio, but it was also noted that MoMA intended to retire $370 million worth of debt in the next few years. Standard & Poor's raised its long-term rating for the museum as it benefited from the fundraising of its trustees.[75] After construction expenses for the new galleries are covered, the Modern estimates that some $65 million will go to its $650 million endowment.

MoMA spent $32 million to acquire art for the fiscal year ending in June 2012.[76]

MoMA employs about 815 people.[73] The museum's tax filings from the past few years suggest a shift among the highest paid employees from curatorial staff to management.[77] The museum's director Glenn D. Lowry earned $1.6 million in 2009[78] and lives in a rent-free $6 million apartment above the museum.[79]

Key people

Officers and the board of trustees

Currently, the board of trustees includes 46 trustees and 15 life trustees. Even including the board's 14 "honorary" trustees, who do not have voting rights and do not play as direct a role in the museum, this amounts to an average individual contribution of more than $7 million.[77] The Founders Wall was created in 2004, when MoMA's expansion was completed, and features the names of actual founders in addition to those who gave significant gifts; about a half-dozen names have been added since 2004. For example, Ileana Sonnabend's name was added in 2012, even though she was only 15 when the museum was established in 1929.[80]

Board of trustees

Board of trustees:


Chief curators

  • Philip Johnson, chief curator of architecture and design (1932-1934 and 1946-1954)
  • Arthur Drexler, chief curator of architecture and design (1951-1956)
  • Peter Galassi, chief curator of photography (1991–2011)[83][84]
  • Cornelia Butler, chief curator of drawings (2006–2013)
  • Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of architecture and design (2007–2013)
  • Rajendra Roy, chief curator of film (2007–present)
  • Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture (2008–present)
  • Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1 and chief curator at large (2009–2018)
  • Sabine Breitwieser, chief curator of media and performance art (2010–2013)
  • Christophe Cherix, chief curator of prints and illustrated books (2010–2013), drawings and prints (2013–present)
  • Paola Antonelli, director of research and development and senior curator of architecture and design (2012–present)
  • Quentin Bajac, chief curator of photography (2012–2018)
  • Stuart Comer, chief curator of media and performance art (2014–present)
  • Martino Stierli, chief curator of architecture and design (2015–present)

See also



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