The wait is over – I finally visited the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Last year, I took a U.S. Foreign Relations course in my Master’s program at Villanova. One of my research projects focused on examining the influence of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy in museums exhibitions and art commissions, mainly at MoMA from 1940-1947. Forced to rely on digital sources due to COVID-19, I found myself unable to view any of the works I researched in person. However, I am ecstatic to share that I have now gazed at some of the paintings I studied, in addition to other highlights in MoMA’s permanent collection.
Instead of taking the train, I decided to drive to the Museum of Modern Art. Parking at the Icon Garage (affiliated with MoMA) I hopped out and found myself minutes away from the museum’s entrance. Upon entry, Guests are instructed to stand on a mat and have a machine take their temperature. Even without a scheduled ticket, I managed to secure admittance. Typically, guests are encouraged to reserve a time slot in advance online but, I did not meet any problems without one.
For my visit, I mainly explored the galleries which contain MoMA’s collections from the 1880s-1940s. As I made my way through the rooms, I saw familiar COVID signs asking visitors to embrace social distancing, wash hands regularly, and wear masks at all times. Several of the tighter gallery spaces were closed to prevent guests from coming into close contact with one another.
As I mentioned, this marked my first trip to MoMA, but also one of my first experiences visiting a museum primarily filled with modern and contemporary art. Their collection contains over 200,000 examples of painting, sculpture, prints, drawing, architecture, photography, design, film, and media and performance art.
One of my initial observations concerned the nature of MoMA’s exhibit labels. At an art museum like the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, their labels contain information varying from the artist, provenance, or the subject matter of a given work. MoMA’s exhibit labels invite the viewer to embrace the principles of modernity and contemplate the meaning of the work for themselves. The structure of MoMA’s labels shifts the focus away from the artist and other historical information relating to a piece, towards a more subjective approach, where emotions and aesthetic analysis take precedence.
At The Met, the label for Paul Cezanne’s The Card Players contains a lengthy description relating to the creation of the painting and identifying other copies made by the artist (in this case, at the Barnes Foundation). Whereas at MoMA, the label for Georges-Pierre Seurat’s Evening, Honfleur states, “Explore how Seurat used dots of color to make this seascape.” The contemplative nature of these labels reverberates into the surrounding galleries.
I also noticed how incessant chatter consistently bounced off the walls of the galleries. Perhaps this was due to guests’ voices muffled by wearing masks or maybe a response to the very nature of modern art, and the discursive element it supports.
One of my most highly anticipated sights for this visit was Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. I saw dozens of people walk up to the work, snap a photo, and proceed to walk around the rest of the gallery. Due to its popularity, I felt guilty standing in front of the piece for an extended period of time. At first, I spent a few minutes gazing at the work, and then circled back around the gallery only to find myself making my way back to the line in hopes to catch another peak at the piece. The only exception I made to move out of the way, was for a young boy who had finger painted a version of Starry Night. His eyes beamed as he approached the work. Instantly, he fumbled for the plastic digital camera which hung around his neck, and snapped a picture of his masterpiece in front of the real deal. This charming moment caught the attention of everyone in Gallery 501. It further showcased the important role museum’s play in serving as a venue for visitors to engage with and experience art.
Another point to note is the exemplary customer service I received during my visit from the gallery attendants, individuals in the gift shop, and men and women working the customer service desk. The friendly and welcoming employees at MoMA really made my visit all the more special. While ringing up my postcard stash, the cashier was ecstatic to learn that this was my first time at the museum and asked me to relay my highlights of the visit. Another warm moment ensued when one of the gallery attendants noted my Starry Night facemask, which he ruled was “fire.”
In closing, I would say that my trip to MoMA was worth the wait. This marked my first visit to a “new” museum since the onset of COVID. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to engage with and experience new works of art. While looking at reproductions is a nice introduction to a piece, you cannot substitute it for viewing the real thing.
Museum of Modern Art – Know Before You Go:
MoMA is open daily from 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $14 for students to $25 for adults.
More information for planning a visit can be found here
Still want to #MuseumFromHome? No problem. You can check out Starry Night in 3D here.