At Large  January 17, 2024  Megan D Robinson

Discovering MoMA: 10 Surprising Facts About the Museum of Modern Art


Founded in 1929, just nine days after the Black Friday Wall Street Crash, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is now world-renowned for its exhaustive collection of modern art. What began with eight prints and one drawing currently encompasses about 200,000 pieces from all over the world across multiple genres, including millions of films and film stills. Here we dive into ten things you may not know about MoMA.

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1. MoMA was founded by pioneering modern art collectors Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., above), Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan. At first, Abby got no support from her husband, who despised modern art, but he eventually donated the land for MoMA’s current location.
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2. MoMA started out in a rented six gallery space in Manhattan's Heckscher Building. Popularity necessitated moves to three consecutively larger locations over the next ten years. MoMA’s sleek, modernist permanent home opened in 1939, with a radio address from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a crowd of 6,000. The building has been renovated and expanded over the years, most recently in 2019, to allow for larger audiences and for more of its extensive collection to be displayed.
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3. In 1959, a fire during an air conditioner installation killed one construction worker and destroyed MoMA’s iconic 18 foot long Monet Water Lilies painting. The triptych now on display is a replacement.
wikimedia commons/Petri Krohn
4. MoMA has expanded to include six collection departments: Painting and Sculpture, Architecture and Design (1931), Film and Media (1935), Photography (1940), Prints and Illustrated Books (1969), and Drawings (1971). MoMA was the first museum to create Architecture and Design, Film, and Photography departments.
Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / CC
5. The first Sculpture Garden was planned in just one night. The current space, dedicated to Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was initially designed in 1953 and is now the heart of the museum. One of the many intriguing sculptures is an actual Paris Subway entrance gate. This 1900 Art Nouveau style cast iron arch, designed by Hector Guimard offers a charming accent to the park walkways.
Jim.henderson / CC0
6. In 2008, through a partnership between the Department of Transportation and art gallery PaceWildenstein, artist and musician David Byrne designed nine sculptural bike racks that were installed around New York for 11 months, including one entitled MoMA, at the museum’s entrance.
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7. MoMA has world-class research facilities. With over 300,000 books, artist books, periodicals, individual files on over 90,000 artists, a conservation laboratory, and over 2,500 published works in 35 languages, they have more research materials than any other art museum.
8. MoMA offers a number of online classes through Coursera, where you can learn about their collection and art in general.
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9. In addition to MoMA’s six floors of gallery space which includes exhibitions of work from the 19th to the 21st century, they also have performance art studios and private film viewing spaces. Films can also be rented or purchased from the museum.
10. As a participant in the Google Art project, online tours are possible. There are also extensive photos of MoMA’s collections with written and audio commentary linked to MoMA’s website.
About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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