Right from its opening in 1929, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) recreated modern art as a new myth that was rescued from European history and thus became accessible as an independent value for an American audience. Paradoxically, the myth stemmed from the opinion that modern art’s history seemed to have expired in pre-war Europe. Upon MoMA’s completion of a major expansion project in 2004, there was considerable anticipation about how the museum would represent its own history and raise its profile in a new century. As it turned out, the museum opted for a surprisingly retrospective look, since its curators were tempted to exhibit its own collection, so unique up until the sixties, in the new exhibition halls. This launched a dilemma for MoMA, as it became a place for past art with little space for new art. In an in-depth analysis of what constitutes “modern” art in the context of the preeminent questions circulating in the art world during this time—When was modern art? and Where was modern art?—the author presents a focused chronology of the administration of MoMA under the museum’s first director, Alfred Hamilton Barr Jr. (1929–43), and, later, William Rubin, director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture (1968–88), with regard to their influence on the museum’s mission, exhibitions, and international profile. The author concludes with commentary on contemporary changes in art geography and contemplation on the effect on artists of the emergence of a global art market.
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Research Article| May 01 2020
The Museum of Modern Art and the History of Modernism
Nka (2020) 2020 (46): 100–114.
Hans Belting; The Museum of Modern Art and the History of Modernism. Nka 1 May 2020; 2020 (46): 100–114. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-8308222
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