Museum of Modern Art
The MoMA opened in 1929 with the express purpose of exposing Americans to modern art, and quickly became a highly important forum for the debates of modernism. Known for historically groundbreaking shows and influential critics charting its course, it is world renown for its collection, which is a storehouse of the greatest art movements of the 20th century. It continues to collect new works by living artists from around the world.
A highlights tour is a great introduction to the collection. This lasts 90 minutes and sweeps you through the most important pieces in the collection and the major art movements of the 20th century as well as some contemporary works.
Modern Art 101
This tour looks at the history of modern art—from Dada to Abstraction Expressionism, Surrealism to Fauvism. A fun, fast survey of the great artists, epochs, and "isms" of the 20th century art world.
We can devise a tour tailored around your favorite artists, art works, movements, or interests.You can look at MoMA's website here.
My pre-curated themed tours are below.
Special Exhibition Tours
Out of Place
By decontextualizing objects and ideas, artists have rearranged them to create new meanings and questions. By mixing idioms, using found items, juxtaposing unlikely things they have forced viewers to reevaluate their own preconceived understandings. They challenge us to deconstruct everything from gender to advertisements, beauty to materials. By proposing subtle or jarring combinations they challenge everything we think we know from mass media to societal structures to the very objects we handle every day. Other artists believed that by detaching things from their original definable locations and patching them together in their own way they could create a much richer tapestry of memories and feelings, psyche and thoughts. This tour looks at art that pulls threads out of the narrative and composes a new question or dream world.
Old Themes, Modern Artists
One of the treats of walking around the MoMA for me is seeing all the ways modern and contemporary artists took old themes, famous stories, antiquated modes of representation and invigorated new life into them. Drawing from Byzantine icons, Greek myths, medieval triptychs and much else they appropriated, borrowed, reimagined and re-visualized old things. Whether playfully juxtaposing old and new, recontextualizing well known images, recasting old characters, or personalizing an ancient story they bring new meanings, new interpretations, new ways of approaching age old tales, and revive and make relevant formats that felt fixed in a specific time and place of long ago.
What is art?
This tour seeks to give agency back to the artist by seeing the things we look at every day—a couch, a car, a teacup, a computer—as something that was designed by a human being. We look at artists who were continually pushing the boundaries of what art is and we ask ourselves does this count? Why or why not? By looking at works that were not seeking to answer traditional questions or that borrowed from the world of mass production or that insist there is no point at all or that appropriate and recombine the work of others—we are challenged with the question of what makes something worth looking at and defining as art. We ponder if how you organize your bathroom, arrange a vase of flowers, pick out postcards from a museum shop is itself an act of creation and thus art.
Many modern artists were interested in finding ways to shake people out their certitudes and complacency. They wanted to create works of art that made them uneasy, unsure, unclear—that make them question and never resolve. Sometimes it's the way something that seems simple becomes complex or when we can't define something, sometimes its just our perspective and how changing it changes what we see. This tour looks at artists from the 20th century right up to today that grappled with new ways of unsettling their viewer, from the farcical to the jarring.
Behind the Curtain
Many artists of the 20th century were more interested in the act of looking and making then in the subject matter itself. Others were more interested in the subconscious and the the subliminal messages that form our thoughts. This tour looks at artists who were not interested in depicting a time and place as much as in the inner psyche of the artist or his act of creation.
Many works at the MoMA were intended for the viewer to handle it, move around it, to rearrange it, to play with it, to interact physically with it. This tour looks at works of art that require viewer participation or at least were intended to. By engaging with a work of art as more than a bystander how does it change our relationship with it and with the ideas it expresses? How do works that surround us affect us differently from works that we have to look at in a glass case ? How do works that require us looking into cubby holes or taking it in piece by piece seem different to us than works that hit our eye all at once? By looking at works that require a different approach from us we consider what makes art affective, distracting, frustrating, or depreciated in how we physically encounter it.
Many 20th century artists believed that art was a means of expressing something pure. Whether it be artistic purity, spiritual purity, or just one solitary pure idea, they believed that through color or abstraction something transcendent could be unlocked for you. Although widely rejected by post-modernism, this pursuit of creating something that had an objective pure essence was championed and sought by major artists of the last century. This tour looks at different ways these artists tried to communicate something eternal.
Modern vs. Contemporary
Often Modern and Contemporary art are lumped together, but in many ways the preconceptions and goals of each have been different. Modernism was for many a pursuit of objectivity, a search for what made us all the same, a belief that our thoughts and feelings could be accurately expressed through creation. Post-modernist contemporary art is in large part a rejection of the notion that there is some objective truth. And yet both modern and contemporary artists have sought to shatter illusions of societal order and reevaluate what art is. This exploration looks at the break modern artists made with traditional ideas of art and representation and how contemporary artists both picked up the mantle and reinterpreted it.