The Art of War: MoMA Acquisitions 1940-1949

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Data Critique

Our Museum of Modern Art acquisitions dataset was collected by GitHub user john-halderman. We downloaded the “artworks.csv” file on 3/2/2020 (the dataset automatically renews monthly, but the 3/2/20 dataset contained 7776 entries, each of which represented a work of art acquired by the MoMA. For each entry, information provided included (but is not limited to): artist name, gender, nationality, birth and death (if deceased) years; artwork title, medium, donor (if any), date of purchase/acquisition, physical dimensions; and extra information designated by the library such as official URL, medium/genre classifications (labeled as “department”). The data was opened in an Excel spreadsheet and various data cleaning procedures were performed using OpenRefine in order to ensure date formats were uniform, duplicates were removed, etc. This revised dataset was then cut down to include only works acquired between 1940-1949, followed by one final “triple check” using OpenRefine. Data was then uploaded to Tableau software for visualization generation.

The dataset provides an extensive overview of the Museum of Modern Art acquisitions. The data can be utilized to show trends in MoMA's interests and values. What an institution acquires speaks to what type of narrative the institution wants to propagate. The dataset also provides the medium, department, and dimensions of art pieces, which can allow researchers to understand cultural trends at the museum, as well as provide a spatial perspective on the pieces acquired. As space was limited, it would be interesting to do a spatial analysis of pieces acquired by each department. The data does not provide whether the pieces were acquired for an exhibition, nor does the data indicate how the piece of art was disposed. At its inception, the MoMA was a part of a museum network that circulated pieces of art. Moreover, traveling exhibitions were a main part of the MoMA’s business model during the 30s and 40s, thus, it would be interesting to know whether the art pieces recorded in the data were traveling across the country. 

What is particularly interesting about the data is that it shows the credit line for the pieces of art acquired. How the art was purchased can reveal many things about the art acquirement process. Moreover, it can reveal who has a say in the narrative of the MoMA. For instance, we narrowed down our data set to show acquisitions from 1940-1949. During that period, the MoMA consistently received a large portion of their pieces from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund. Abby Aldrich was a co-founder of the museum, and through her donations during the 1940s, it is clear that she remained a prominent source in the direction of the museum. Lillie P. Bliss was also a founding member of the museum, and she is also a consistent donor to the museum, albeit, in a less significant manner. Affluent families, and eventually corporate companies, played a large role in the growing art community in the United States from the 1930s through the 1950s. 


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Davenport, Russell W. “Round Table on Modern Art: Fifteen Distinguished Critics and Connoisseurs Undertake to Clarify the Strange Art of Today.” Life, 1948, 56–79. 

Gunn, Elliot. “Where Are All The Women in Modern Art?” Medium, Towards Data Science, 2 Aug. 2019,

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“The Museum and the War Effort: Artistic Freedom and Reporting for ‘The Cause.’” The Museum of Modern Art,


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