The History of the MoMA

It is arduous for one to think of modern art without thinking of its home and biggest supporter, the Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, is simply one of, if not the most, influential museums in collecting modern art. The MoMA is visited by roughly three million people a year. These people come from all parts of the world to admire and venerate the works of the world's most pivotal artists. At a time when an institute dedicated solely to modernist art was rare, it was the dedication of three progressives and patrons of the arts: Miss Lillie P. Bliss, Mrs. Cornelius J. Sullivan, and Mrs. D. Rockefeller, Jr. to create just that. With the benefaction of A. Conger Goodyear, Paul Sachs, Frank Crowninshield, and Josephine Boardman Crane, the Museum of Modern Art was created in 1929 in Manhattan, New York. 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. The goal was simple and the vision was clear. Alfred H. Barr, Jr. was chosen as the founding creator of the MoMA on his tutor's, Dr. Paul J. Sachs, recommendation. Barr believed that the installment of the MoMA might provide New York with "the greatest museum of modern art in the world."

The appraisal of the MoMA can be contributed by the abundance of Barr's attainments. Barr was an Art History major who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University. Barr taught art history classes at Princeton University, Vassar College, and Wellesley College, while simultaneously pursuing his Ph.D. at Harvard University. Barr's dereliction from Harvard to hold his position at the MoMA made him unable to receive his Ph.D., but his publication of his book Picasso: Fifty Years of his Art in 1946 allowed Harvard to accept this as his dissertation, thus awarding him with a Ph.D. Barr had a deep devotion to modern art. This devotion was evident when in 1927 Barr traveled to Dessau, Germany to enlighten himself at the Bauhaus school of art. This trip lead to the MoMA's acquisition of many different pieces of art from Bauhaus. Barr's first major acquisition for MoMA was Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror, which he purchased in 1938 for $10,000 with the help of Mrs. Simon Guggenheim. Barr was a Picasso enthusiast. It can be said that Picasso's success was greatly aided by the MoMA's eminent displays of his work.During the 1930s, Barr curated an impressive number of groundbreaking shows at MoMA, including a van Gogh exhibition in 1935, Cubism and Abstract Art in 1936, a Bauhaus show in 1938, and a Picasso retrospective in 1939. The Vincent van Gogh exhibition comprised of a groundbreaking sixty-six oils and fifty drawings from the Netherlands, as well as poignant excerpts from the artist's letters. Barr's setup of the exhibit was a hit with the public. Barr was known for his tendency to group art movements into different -isms, thus creating variations and classifications for all modern art. Barr's main goal was not only to make the MoMA a permanent institute, but one that is recognized by the world as fueling creativity, igniting minds, and providing inspiration when it comes to the world of modern art. The MoMA has grown into a sanctuary for all lovers of modern art. From the open space to the all-access viewing and no glass protection, the MoMA is truly committed to creating a relationship between the viewer and the piece. MoMA's holdings include more than 150,000 individual pieces in addition to approximately 22,000 films and 4 million film stills.

It's probably best to commence by analyzing one of the most notable and highly regarded modern pieces in the history of Western culture. To be more specific, this painting is post-impressionistic, a term encompassing works made by artists "unified by their interest in expressing their emotional and psychological responses to the world through bold colors and expressive, often symbolic images." This piece is titled The Starry Night and it was created by van Gogh in 1889. The Starry Night was acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss bequest. The MoMA explains van Gogh's Starry Night like this:
The Starry Night is based on van Gogh’s direct observations as well as his imagination,
memories, and emotions. The steeple of the church, for example, resembles those common in his
native Holland, not in France. The whirling forms in the sky, on the other hand, match published
astronomical observations of clouds of dust and gas known as nebulae. At once balanced and
expressive, the composition is structured by his ordered placement of the cypress, steeple, and
central nebulae, while his countless short brushstrokes and thickly applied paint set its surface in
rolling motion. Such a combination of visual contrasts was generated by an artist who found
beauty and interest in the night, which, for him, was 'much more alive and richly colored than the

A piece that is hard to miss due to its magnificent size (8' x 7' 8") and fascinating subject matter, is none other than Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. This piece was also acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss bequest. The harshness and masculinity of the five women depicted make them hard to approach.The women are intimidating. According to the MoMA:
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is one of the most important works in the genesis of modern art. The painting depicts five naked prostitutes in a brothel; two of them push aside curtains around the space where the other women strike seductive and erotic poses—but their figures are composed of flat, splintered planes rather than rounded volumes, their eyes are lopsided or staring or asymmetrical, and the two women at the right have threatening masks for heads. The space, too, which should recede, comes forward in jagged shards, like broken glass. In the still life at the bottom, a piece of melon slices the air like a scythe.The faces of the figures at the right are influenced by African masks.

The Persistence of Memory is a 1931 painting by artist Salvador Dalí, and is one of his most recognizable works. This is a surrealist piece. Surrealists sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Every aspect of this painting seems as if it has been derived from the brain of a dreamer, and that is exactly what Dalí was going for. Clocks are not supposed to be flimsy. Clocks are substantial and don't belong on the beach. There is so much wrong and bizarre in this painting, but oddly enough it is engrossing and demands your attention and judgment.

Presumably one of my favorite pieces in the MoMA is The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau. I don’t know what draws me to this painting. Maybe it’s the vivid and highly saturated colors, or maybe it’s the scenery and the ethnic clothing and the objects surrounding the female who is so absorbed in her slumber. What I do understand is why this piece is considered naive art. The Sleeping Gypsy is calm, and innocent; almost childlike. This piece is not offensive nor is it complex. Rousseau's ability to achieve such tranquility in a piece that utilizes a plethora of colors, shading, and outlining is truly worthy of appraisal.


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