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Subscriber: null; date: 15 April 2021

Museum of Modern Art [MoMA] (New York)locked

  • Deborah Cullen

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was founded in 1929 by patrons Lillie P(lummer) Bliss, Cornelius J. Sullivan and Rockefeller family §(1) to establish an institution devoted to modern art. Over the next ten years the Museum moved three times and in 1939 settled in the Early Modern style building (1938–9) designed by Philip S. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone that it still occupies at 11 West 53 Street. Subsequent renovations and expansions occurred in the 1950s and 1960s by Philip Johnson, in 1984 by Cesar Pelli and in 2002–4 by Yoshirō Taniguchi (b 1937). MoMA QNS, the temporary headquarters during this project, was subsequently used to provide art storage. In 2000, MoMA and the contemporary art space, P.S.1, Long Island City, Queens, announced their affiliation. Recent projects are shown at P.S.1 in Queens in a renovated public school building.

According to founding director, Alfred H(amilton) Barr (who retired in 1967), MoMA intended to exhibit and collect the works of “the most important living masters, especially those of France and the United States, though eventually there should be representative groups from England, Germany, Italy, Mexico, and other countries.” Barr described MoMA’s holdings, beginning with Paul Cézanne and tracing the developments of modern art, as a “torpedo moving through time.” Through its collections and exhibitions, MoMA has shaped Western reception of the modernist canon. Since the mid-20th century, major exhibitions led to the ascendancy of the Abstract Expressionists and the recognition of international art movements such as Pop, Op and kinetic, Minimalist and conceptual trends.

Originally, MoMA planned to maintain a contemporary focus by deaccessioning works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 1953 MoMA withdrew its agreement with the Metropolitan and instead chose to maintain its core collection, from Post-Impressionism in France through other modernist currents produced for the most part in Europe or the United States, in order to contextualize the development of contemporary art. An Inter-American Fund was endowed in 1942 by Nelson Rockefeller for the acquisition of works from Latin America. In 1952, René d’Harnoncourt created an International Program to spark global exchange.

By the early 21st century, MoMA’s collection could be considered the most important concentration of 20th-century Western art. It includes over 150,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, architectural models and drawings and design objects. It also contains 22,000 films and four million photographic stills, a library and archive of over 300,000 books, artist books and periodicals and 70,000 artists’ files.


  • R. Lynes: Good Old Modern: An Intimate Portrait of the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 1973)
  • The Museum of Modern Art at Mid-Century: Continuity and Change (New York, 1995)
  • H. Schoenholz Bee and M. Elligott, eds.: Art in Our Time: A Chronicle of the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 2004)
  • Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to Present From the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 2004)