New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, or MOMA, has one of the—if not the most comprehensive—collections of modern art in the world (over 200,000). Its Post-Impressionists collection starts with Cezanne, the generally acknowledged father of modern art, and includes others such as Van Gogh, Bonnard, and Rousseau.
MOMA Permanent Collection
It progresses through Cubism (Picasso, Braque, etc.), Futurist (Kandinsky, Chagall and so forth), Geometric Abstraction (Legar, Mondrian, Picasso), Surrealism (Miro, Magritte and again—Picasso), Abstract Expressionism (DeKooning, Pollock, Still, Rothko, etc.), Russian Avant-Garde (Rodchenko, Malevich) and Mexican Modernism (Rivera, Kahlo, Orozco). While Picasso crossed multiple genres and was represented in multiple galleries, a handful of pioneers got their own galleries. These were Matisse, de Chirico, Duchamp, Brancusi, and Monet (exclusively for his water lily series).
MOMA Special Exhibits
MOMA consistently presents captivating exhibitions. Here are some of them including those from back in time.
2023 – Georgia O’Keeffe: To See Takes Time
The exhibit provided a rare opportunity to explore O’Keeffe’s approach to different subjects and the evolution of her styles and subjects from 1915 through the early 1970s when she stopped painting due to macular degeneration.
O’Keeffe’s paper-based charcoal, pencil, watercolor, and pastel drawings addition to a few of her oil paintings were highlighted.
O’Keeffe created multiple sketches of a subject, often in different media—from charcoal and pen to watercolors and especially pastels (which she viewed as very versatile, easy to create different shades of color and producing results similar to oils). The show contained dozens of series, some with minor variations in content, some with different media, and some produced in rapid succession and others after long delays.
Although the show includes examples of her work through her entire career, it focused on the late 1920s, when she probably created more sketches than through the rest of her career. The exhibit also discusses and examples of stylistic changes through her career due to several moves:
- Texas prompted her to focus on broad landscapes and bright, sun-saturated colors;
- Lake George led to works with an interplay of water, forests, mountains, and sky; and
- New Mexico resulted in a subject shift to desert motifs and found objects such as animal skeletons and horns.
While it was interesting, we would have liked to see more examples of the oils that represented the final steps in the evolution of her works (and for which she is best known).
2023 – Before Technicolor: Early Color on Film
The 1895 creation of synthetically-produced dyes were used in everything from postcards to fabrics. They also were applied to create “special effects” for films—which created controversy. The exhibit shows clips of half a dozen early colorized films.
2023 – Signals: How Video Transformed the World
The exhibit provides multiple views into how video has changed and continues to change everything from entertainment to politics, social movements to surveillance, and in how we see ourselves, our everyday world, and how the world sees us. It looks at how governments use video and the potential of “deep fake” videos to alter our perceptions of truth and realty. Dozens of video devices and channels provide examples of these and many other impacts of video.
2023 – Never Alone: Videogames and Other Interactive Design
Computer code not only provides intuitive new interfaces to virtual worlds but also changes our behavior and how we connect with, and separate from each other. The exhibit is divided into three sections:
- The change in “input” devices as from the evolution from keypads and joysticks to mouse, touchscreen to gestural and even initial efforts to create mind-controlled interfaces.
- The “player” from the roles that communities play in identifying and resolving glitches in early versions and how players learn to exploit weaknesses in the game to their advantage and expand the boundaries of the game.
- “Designer” which examines how designers attempt to create transparent interfaces (such as use of @ as a substation for code that directs a message to its destination and the design of icons such as trash cans, scissors and paint brushes). It provides examples of games that give users control over their own success to a few, such as Everything is Going to Be Fine which are virtually oblivious to user control and Bennet Toddy which purposely frustrates users.
2023 – Chosen Memories
The contemporary works of 39 different Latin American artists are displayed. Most of the works contain at least some reference to the region’s colonial history and how this history shapes, or at least helps inform the present. The works consist of many media from sketches and prints to videos and sculptures range from direct references to the past, such as a 16th-century colonial map of Hispanolo onto which painted images of mythical creatures are superimposed to an artistic representation of the 1949 MOVIAC hydrological proto-computer.
Nor, of course, would any MOMA visit be complete without at least a stroll through the museum’s extraordinary permanent collection which provides a generally
2023 – Chronological exploration of art from the 1880s through the present.
Exhibits from the permanent collection are exhibited over three floors and divided into particular theme (such as cities), artistic movement (Impressionism, Cubism, etc.) and in some cases, individual artists of even individual works of art. While we saw many works that we have not previously seen, and others with which we are familiar that have been reconceptualized, we only had time to scratch the surface. All the more reason to return.
2017: Unfinished Conversations
. This exhibit contains work from about a dozen artists that are fairly new to the MOMA collection. These works are dedicated to three broad, interrelated themes: social protest, the effect of history on the formation of identity, and how art juxtaposes fact and fiction. Many at least as we are told) allude to acts of state surveillance, censorship, repression, and violence and the resistance and activism they provoke.
2017: Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends Exhibit
This retrospective focused largely on how Rauschenberg continually evolved his styles through a series of creative collaborations with friends from all different fields. It began in the artist’s college years in the late 1940s, where he went to a school (Black Mountain College) with professors who challenged students to create art from miscellaneous “found objects” and even trash—a practice in which Rauschenberg was to become a pioneer and leading practitioner. He continued this work after college, when friend Cy Twombly and he traveled in Italy and Morocco, picking up interesting pieces of found scrap and creating small assemblies, and then in New York, where he, Twombly, and two other friends (dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage) established a studio in which he also began experimenting with plain black and white palettes (sometimes incorporating scrap into the paintings.
By the late ’50s, he began incorporating ever-larger found objects into his works. These included one work that was designed around a stuffed eagle and another that incorporated a full-scale stuffed goat, which he inserted into a used tire. His painting, meanwhile, also began to incorporate, if not actually represent, more traditional “painterly” subjects, as when we created a series of 34 illustrations illustrating Dante’s Inferno, and his palette gravitated toward red, as in a series of dance sets and costumes around performances choreographed by friend Merce Cunningham.
By the mid-’60s, he had been creating more complex, large-scale constructions (again largely around found objects) and choreographing his own performances around them. He also learned the silk-screening process (at the workshop of a friend, Andy Warhol) and created a silk-screen library of hundreds of printed images that he mixed and matched into a series of large-scale canvases. His work with large-scale, found-object assemblies also began to evolve—then in collaboration with a couple of Bell Laboratory engineers with whom he began creating audio and kinetic pieces enabled by leading-edge electronics. Examples included a few room-sized installations, such as “Oracle” (which used AM radio and wireless transistor circuity to create a series of metal musical contraptions) and “Mud Muse” which used electronics to choreograph mud bubbles around music in a large tub of mud. He, in fact, became so interested in integrating technology and art that he began working with new technologies including closed-circuit TVs and sonar, and established an exchange by which artists and technologists could share ideas and create their own collaborations.
By the 1960s, the artist created a studio complex on Florida’s Captiva Island, which gave him the opportunity to work on larger-scale projects and to escape the hectic pace of his New York life to be able to reflect and to move in new directions. He spend time in India, working with textile designers, and created a series of works of multi-colored silk pieces that fluttered in the wind and began working with Macintosh computers to create and incorporate digital images into his work. He also returned to dance collaborations, this time with choreographer Trisha Brown, with whom he created a combination of photographic slides to be projected on the back of stage sets to create an ever-changing backdrop to the performances.
2017: Frank Lloyd Wright Special Exhibit
This exhibition, compiled primarily from Wright’s own archives, provides a perspective on many dimensions of an architectural practice that consist of designs of more than 1,000 buildings, including more than 500 that were actually realized. Not only was Wright one of the most prolific architects of all time, he was also the most influential—and one of the most shameless self-promoters. We have been a fan for the last 40 years, touring dozens of his buildings across the country and touring both of his schools and his residence/studio. This exhibition, which is divided into 12 sections, provided yet another view of the master’s work.
Rather than track the full arc of his career, it begins with an overview of some of his most important buildings (such as Fallingwater, Robie House, Johnson Wax Building, Unity Temple, and others) and then provides more detailed overviews of designs for key buildings (including Imperial Hotel and the Mile High Building), categories (like Urban designs and NYC buildings) and design concepts (such as the changing geometric patterns of his designs, his use of ornamentation and his pioneering use of building systems to create more affordable, modular construction. For example:
- The Imperial Hotel section examines not only the building but also how Wright affected the future of Japanese architecture and how his exposure to Japanese design and aesthetics affected his future work;
- The importance of his ornamentation (from friezes to stained glass windows to murals and furniture) was so important to both to the aesthetics of individual buildings and to his concept of “organic architecture”;
- The role of his studio drawings in selling not only his concepts to individual clients but also his brand to the broader market;
- How his 1956 conceptual design for the totally impractical “Mile-High Building” was created more as a means of shaping his own image than it was a serious proposal;
- How his fundamental design concept evolved from rectilinear grids to hexagons and ultimately to circles and arcs;
- His pioneering work in bringing great (i.e., his own) architecture to the masses via his initial concept for replicable, factory-produced, mail order, do-it-yourself modular components to his later concept of small, affordable, Usonian homes; and
- His later focus was on designing urban environments in a way that would relieve the street-level congestion associated with high concentrations of high-rise buildings, suburban environments that would create a sense of community while still preserving privacy, and public spaces and civic centers that would revitalize city centers.
2017: Postwar Women Abstractionists Special Exhibit
This exhibit focuses on the difficult road and sometimes provides an overview of stunning results of women artists who struggled to develop their own voices and command attention and respect in an era (roughly from 1945 to 1968) where they had few role models or mentors, and in which men dominated the art world, and especially that of abstract art. The exhibit portrays more than 100 works of all media (paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, prints, textiles, ceramics, and so forth) and all types of abstraction, by more than 50 artists. These works, which are presented generally in chronological order, highlight work by artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Lee Krasner, Louise Nevelson, and Eva Hess.
2017: Charles Atlas Special Exhibit
Atlas was an innovative documentary filmmaker and videographer who became preoccupied with using six numbers (1-6) to illustrate a continually expanding and contracting universe via intricately choreographed video installations that highlight the importance and ubiquity of mathematical algorithms in our increasingly technologized society.
2017: Louise Lawler Special Exhibit
An avowed feminist with a habit of incorporating subtle political and anti-war messages into her work, this exhibit provides a combination of her photographs, murals, and other types of media in which she reformats some of her existing content to other media. This includes black and white line tracings of her photos and the incorporation of photographic images into paperweights.
2015: Picasso Sculpture Exhibit
The exhibit was divided into several stages during which the artist, who had no training in sculpture, broke the rules to create a new genre of sculpture while simultaneously extracting insights that would be fed back into his painting and judging from some of the humor in the pieces, having a lot of fun at the same time.
- 1902-1909: the first of his sculptural experiments in which he began exploring what would become life-long influences of African and Oceanic art, as with wood carvings and initial basic explorations of cubist forms.
- 1912 to 1915: some of his subjects (especially guitars and violins) paralleled and explored new dimensions of his early cubist paintings. Then, as a whim, he designed and had cast six absinthe glasses, complete with sugar cubes and a range of different absinthe spoons, and all painted in very different colors and patterns.
- 1927-1931: focused on his very different ideas for a commissioned monument to Guillaume Apollinaire. Although none of the designs were accepted (probably because they shattered everybody’s concept of what such a monument should be), it allowed Picasso to explore new approaches to sculpture.
- 1930-1932: when he built his first private studio that was devoted exclusively to sculpture.
- 1933-1937: he began imprinting and incorporating found and everyday objects (such as leaves and corrugated paperboard) into his sculptures,
- 1939 to 1945: a difficult time during which the Nazi-designated “degenerate artist” has denied his ability to exhibit his work. He began the use of bronze (to ensure permanency for some of his sculptures) even though the nazi forbade this and found ways to sneak his work out to foundries that would secretly cast his work.
- 1945-1953: his post-war travel to the Riviera introduced him to ceramics.
- 1952-1958: he continued to recycle disparate objects into his work.
- 1954-1964: his most productive sculptural phase
Cindy Sherman Retrospective
This exhibit had numerous examples of all Cindy Sherman’s major photographic series: fashion, centerfold, grotesques, sex, history, clowns, headshots, society portraits, and collages. It explained how she did all this work herself, without even an assistant, and most importantly, showed the emotional power of her work–her ability to parody and caricature society and conditions, while simultaneously conveying emotions ranging from sympathy to pity to disgust.