The History of MoMA


New York has always been known as a haven for great art, with the storied streets of Manhattan teeming with museums packed with classical paintings, sculpture, antiquities, and other reminders of times and cultures past. However, when it comes to modern art, there’s no place in the world that holds a candle to The Museum of Modern Art. This New York City icon has been delighting New Yorkers and visitors to the city for the better part of a century since first opening its doors in 1929. In the intervening 88 years, the museum has become a New York institution, one that seeks to offer visibility to the ever-changing medium that is modern art.

Long before women even had the right to vote in the United States, New Yorker Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of famed philanthropist and financier John D. Rockefeller Jr., and a pair of her friends, Mary Quinn Sullivan and Lillie P. Bliss, were making a plan that would ensure their legacy long after they were gone. The group had planned to create a modern art museum in New York City, a dream that would be realized on November 7, 1929, shortly following that year’s massive Wall Street crash, when the initial incarnation of The Museum of Modern Art opened on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.

As the museum’s prominence grew, so too did its cachet in the art world, attracting work from the likes of Picasso, van Gogh, and Monet. Soon, the museum’s collection and its large-scale exhibitions outgrew their modest home, moving to 53rd Street, where the museum remains today. The museum’s prominence far beyond the five boroughs necessitated another expansion in 1983, when the Museum Tower, an adjacent building, was constructed. The addition of the Museum Tower increased the museum’s gallery space by more than 100 percent, also allowing for the creation of a book shop, two restaurants, and an auditorium in the process. Just fourteen years later, the museum underwent yet another renovation, when Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi was chosen over a group of world-renowned architects to oversee its metamorphosis.

While MoMA’s reputation as a venerable institution for art has grown around the world, its actual physical size has remained the same for a number of years since Taniguchi’s reimagining of the building in the 1990s. However, with added art came additional needs for space, and not long after selling its adjacent plot of land for the development of luxury tower 53W53, the museum was asking to borrow room from its neighbor. The soaring midtown tower, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, a work of modern art itself, will also house two floors of gallery space for the museum, offering a total of 39,000 additional square feet of space in which to house MoMA’s prized collections.

Much like art itself, MoMA has continued to evolve and expand with the times. What started as an idea in the mind of a group of close friends has become an American icon, a home for those who create art, those who protect it, and those eager to see it grow.

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