When MoMA opened in 1929, modern art was still revolutionary and discounted by a hostile public that routinely reacted to Abstraction, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism et al. with refrains like “an eight-year-old could do that.” Flash forward 90 years and MoMA is now a mecca for tourists, none of whom find the work of Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock or Marcel Duchamp particularly shocking. These days, you’re just as likely to find a bro in an NFL jersey wandering the galleries looking for Matisse as you would an aesthete dressed in black.
And who is largely responsible for this change? Why MoMA itself. No other museum has done more to mainstream the avant-garde than the one with Modern Art in its name, and if you’re curious as to how they got it done you’re in luck: MoMA recently put a digital archive of all of its exhibitions stretching back to opening day—some 3,500 in all, with documentation that includes press releases, checklists, catalogues lists of artists and photos, lots of them. There are 33,000, in fact, showing the history of MoMA unfold show by show. Searchable by year, decade and exhibition type, the archive also includes information on film programs, performances and installations. The project took 2 1/2 years to create and is free to use. If you’re interested in what you might find there, we’ve included the following samples.