How to Get the Most From the MoMA in New York City
The story of the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) begins in 1928 with the Rockefeller family. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the wife of John Jr., gathered with her two friends, Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan. Over lunch, the trio noted that New York City was the only cultural metropolis that lacked a space devoted to art being created now.
But what to do about it? Well, the Rockefeller family, which founded Standard Oil, had some spare change, around $30-$300 billion, adjusted for inflation. With that kind of means, the process didn’t take long, and the first iteration of the MoMA opened the following year, in 1929.
Read on to discover how three pioneering women grew their vision into one of the world’s most celebrated museums. I’ll also share what you can see at the Museum of Modern Art when you visit New York City.
History of the MoMA
To create a museum devoted to celebrating the world’s modern masters, the three co-founding ladies rented a space on Fifth Avenue to begin displaying collections of contemporary art. The MoMA got off to a strong start — two of the earliest exhibitions showcased works by Henri Matisse and Diego Rivera.
The rest of the 20th century saw amazing developments for the museum. After a decade of rented spaces, they moved into their first permanent home in 1939: a brand new contemporary building on West 53rd Street. The next few decades featured premieres from artists like Monet, Jackson Pollock, and Picasso.
Each decade in the MoMA’s history deserves its own book. The museum celebrated Civil Rights leaders during the 1960s, won an Oscar in 1979 for its work promoting film as art, and moved to its current space on 53rd Street in 1984.
The turn of the millennium has ushered in perhaps some of the MoMA’s most profound developments. They grappled with 9/11 along with the rest of the city, introduced tech and new media as part of the dot-com age, and championed abstraction as art continued to evolve.
In 2019, they opened an expanded campus committed to reinvention. The new MoMA includes performance spaces, educational programming, and even free street-level galleries for passersby.
What to See at the MoMA
The MoMA has two locations, both of which house thousands of works and dozens of exhibits. Here are some tips for where to start.
The Permanent Collection
The MoMA collection includes more than 200,000 works of art. Floors 2, 4, and 5 house notable items from the permanent collection arranged in more than 50 galleries.
Here, visitors can wander the halls and take in masterpieces from artists ranging from van Gogh and Jackson Pollock to Rothko and Andy Warhol.
The MoMA also offers rotating exhibitions that respond to contemporary movements, politics, and new discoveries in the art world. Previous offerings run the entire spectrum of contemporary art, ranging from Bauhaus design and Monet’s “Water Lilies” to Tim Burton’s films and hundreds of Picasso’s works. And that was just 2010!
The MoMA just has more art than they can fit in one place. In 1976, they opened a satellite campus, MoMA PS1, in an abandoned public school building in Long Island City, Queens.
Dedicated to art that is more on the experimental and abstract side, PS1 tends to showcase media such as installations, performance, film, and video.
The Modern: Dining at the MoMA
The MoMA provides a platform for world-class cuisine as well. The Modern serves up contemporary American fare from a menu that has earned four James Beard Awards, three stars from the New York Times, and two Michelin stars, representing some of the best dining in the world.
Fair warning: Michelin star dishes tend to come at a very hefty price tag. If you aren’t in the mood for a tasting menu that can cost a couple hundred dollars, The Modern does have an à la carte bar room where diners can sip drinks and sample snacks such as shrimp fritters and steak tartare for a reasonable fee.
Before You Visit NYC’s MoMA
How much does the MoMA cost?
As of this writing, full-price admission to the MoMA is $25. Discounts are available to students, seniors, and visitors with disabilities. Children get in for free.
Which is better: the MoMA or the Met?
The great thing about this question is that it indicates you’re interested in visiting two of the best museums in the world and really getting the most out of NYC culture.
You really have to see both, because they are very different. While the Met tries to present art throughout all of history, the MoMA focuses specifically on contemporary art from around the world.
Both museums house masterpieces that you can only see in New York, and people travel from all corners of the globe just to view them. Do yourself a favor and book tickets for both.
How much time should I spend in the MoMA?
The MoMA has six floors of breathtaking art. I would recommend devoting at least 30 minutes and possibly one hour to each floor. Plan to spend at least 3-5 hours in the museum, longer if you want to stop in for lunch or dinner at one of the various restaurants, or explore the beautiful gardens and courtyard. Obviously, wear comfortable shoes.
A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words
Really, there almost are no words to describe the significance of the MoMA. For almost 100 years it has survived the shifting culture of New York City, changes in artistic tastes, and even a fire that threatened almost 2,000 precious works of art. What began as a conversation over lunch has become a global destination for the absolute best art New York City has to offer.
As former MoMA director Richard Oldenburg described, it’s “a place where you can see the whole development of the modern movement.”
From the expert aficionado to the casual art appreciator, the MoMA curates pieces that help reflect our experience as humans, contextualize the past and the present, and try to make a little more sense out of life. It’s definitely a must-see on your trip to NYC.