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Museum of Modern Art

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Opened: 1929

"While majority opinion may not take kindly to forms of modern art, that same majority has also been hostile to most original and radical innovations, such as automobiles or airplanes or transatlantic cables or Protestantism or the theory that the earth is round and not flat."

Alfred H. Barr, Jr.

Summary of Museum of Modern Art

Since its inception in 1929, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has continually redefined the idea of the museum in contemporary Western culture. Originally conceived by its founders as a place for modern art to come and go (since what makes up modernism is constantly changing), MoMA only established a permanent collection in 1952, but it has become the home for some of the greatest works of avant-garde painting, sculpture, film, and multi-media art in the world.

Shaped by the founding mission to educate the public about modern art, MoMA's guiding principles were further honed by the inaugural director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., who saw the museum as a laboratory, exploring various branches of artistic production. MoMA's collection continues to expand as it embraces Installation, Conceptual, Performance, and Video Art as well. In an increasingly globalized world, MoMA has made attempts to diversify its collection and tell new stories of modern art.

Key Ideas

The idea of a Museum of Modern Art was once considered by critics to be an oxymoron. Its very existence posed the question: How can there be a museum - a permanent institution housing the heritage of human civilization - for modern art, which embodies the ideal of always moving forward and constantly changing? Rather than shy away from this paradox, MoMA has embraced its contradictory nature by appealing to both the history of modernism and the legacy it continues to leave in the 21st century.
Alfred Barr's influence was felt for decades after he left the museum. Barr's interest in the German Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism led him to think of the museum as a laboratory of sorts. Even though he is known for his formalist take on modern art, Barr was eager to explore modernism through a range of artistic practices, including film, photography, dance, architecture, and design.
With the rise of the Nazism in Germany in the 1930s and Hitler's denunciation of so-called "degenerate art," MoMA became one of the few places in the world to view a wide array of European avant-garde art, cementing its reputation as an indispensible cultural institution. In many respects, MoMA's reputation continued to grow in the subsequent decades with the shifting of the art world center from Paris to New York in the middle of the 20th century.
MoMA has faced various criticisms over the decades. From its entrenched European biases to the extremely low percentage of female and minority artists in its collection. Its high admission fee and its embrace of spectacle-based contemporary art makes some long-time visitors queasy, but MoMA constantly attempts to keep up with audience desires and expectations in a rapidly changing art world.

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While most recognize the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) as the premiere institution for showcasing the avant-garde art of the 20th century, it was not the first to do so. In 1908, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz set up a gallery, 291, to showcase paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photographs by daring European and American artists. Katherine Dreier, with the help of Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, established the Société Anonyme in 1920 and exhibited modern art, and in 1927, collector A. E. Gallatin opened his Gallery of Living Art, devoted to "fresh and individual works by living artists," such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Fernand Leger, and Piet Mondrian.

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