Yesterday, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) released a digital archive depicting a comprehensive account of the New York museum’s exhibitions since its inception in 1929 to today. Available to the public for free, the resource contains firsthand materials such as photographs, press releases, archival documents, and catalogs for 3,500 exhibitions presenting art, photography, architecture, and design. The motive behind the project, which took two-and-a-half years to finish, is to foster scholarship and interest for modern and contemporary art.
The project was started and carried out by MoMA’s Michelle Elligott, chief of archives, and Fiona Romeo, director of digital content and strategy. To make it possible, three archivists imported more than 22,000 folders of records from 1929 to 1989 that had been held by its registrar and curatorial departments where they preserved, vetted, and created descriptions for each file. With this process, the archive can be easily searched by period or exhibition type. By providing a detailed list of all participants in the exhibitions, artist pages have also been significantly bolstered, now containing more than 20,000 names. Additionally, a list of of the heads of each curatorial department since the museum’s founding has been added.
Extending the specificity of search capability, the data has also been shared with Web-based repository hosting service Github, enabling users to look up a specific artist or curator, and see what exhibitions they were featured in or involved with.
Monumental shows presenting architecture and design within the records include “Bauhaus 1919-1928,” organized by Herbert Bayer in 1939 chronicling the influential German school of art and design threatened by Nazi agencies; “Eight Automobiles,” the first comprehensive show of automobile design in 1951 organized by Philip Johnson and Arthur Drexler; and the 1970 “Information” exhibition by Kynaston McShrine conceptualizing information data as contemporary art.
For the exhibitions from 1990 to 2000, the Leon Levy Foundation has taken on the task of underwriting the processing of these records over the next three years. The philanthropic foundation in New York also funded the processing of the exhibition history archives.
Future phases coming out of this initiative include the thousands of film series by MoMA’s Department of Film from the last 80 years, a history of performance at both MoMA and MoMA PS1 (its sister institution in Long Island City, N.Y.), and the exhibition history of MoMA PS1.