“That an institution devoted to the most recent in art should concern itself with the most ancient may seem something of a paradox,” MoMA’s founding director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., wrote in his preface to the catalogue for Prehistoric Rock Pictures in Europe and Africa. Yet, for Barr, this past had already influenced modern art, and could potentially offer museum visitors a prehistoric pedigree for it. The exhibition consisted of photographs and watercolor copies of prehistoric rock paintings, the latter produced to scale, which gave them a monumental effect. They were all drawn from a German institution that had recently led major research projects to study rock art in Europe and Africa; the institution employed watercolorists to reproduce these paintings and engravings, working on site for the greatest accuracy. Barr saw photographs of the prehistoric sites on a visit to Europe and ordered 150 new watercolors made especially for display in the exhibition.
Prehistoric Rock Pictures in Europe and Africa
April 28–May 30, 1937 The Museum of Modern Art