The Art of War: MoMA Acquisitions 1940-1949

The Art of War: MoMA Acquisitions 1940-1949

The 1940s were a significant decade in relation to the Museum of Modern Art’s acquisition habits. The decade marked a shift in their acquisitions from a focus on European art to a focus on American art. The MoMA continued to seek out French works and works that could not be identified culturally, but American art triumphed during this time. The museum was understandably affected by the events surrounding World War II, and a quick scan of MoMA acquisition records opens the door to many questions, such as:
  1. What role, if any, did the MoMA play during the war effort? 
  2. What did support of the war look like in terms of exhibitions and art acquisition?
  3. How did the war affect the habits and demographic of donors during this time? 

Our final visualizations within this project answer these questions. 

To provide context for the story of what was being bought by and gifted to the Museum of Modern Art during the second World War, we focused on the entire decade of the 40s rather than limiting search parameters to only the five-year-long conflict. Available acquisitions data was broken down in terms of gender, nationality, department, and credit line. 

Focusing on a span of ten years with our eyes on gender, nationality, department, and credit line led us to envision what the Museum of Modern Art had in mind when it came to their exhibitions through records of acquisitions. Our research led us to determine that while during this time the MoMA broadened its horizons with gender, nationality, department, and credit line, the common denominators for that list remained the same. The institution valued American male drawings and prints provided by foundations before/during the war.

It is difficult to determine an entire institution’s set of values during a time of social upheaval, but examining the trends that exist within the MoMA acquisitions dataset allows for some conclusions to be drawn. As you move through the “galleries” in this project, you will find many interesting conclusions to be drawn. As you begin your visit, allow us to offer three:
There is a power in curation, particularly during periods of social upheaval—something we know well having constructed this digital group project during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through our analysis, we have set out to represent ways the MoMA wielded that power in uncertain times.

Contents of this path: