The Museum of Modern Art opened to the public in November 1929 with an exhibition of four 19th-century artists: Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh. In the accompanying catalogue, Alfred H. Barr Jr., the Museum’s first director, explained that he had chosen these four artists for MoMA’s inaugural show because they were especially revered by contemporary painters. Though these artists had been active decades prior, Barr argued that “so revolutionary are certain aspects of their work that it is still subject to misunderstanding and, for a recalcitrant few, battleground of controversy.” They’d made a decisive break from the traditional conventions of painting, valuing innovative stylistic approaches over descriptive resemblance.
Now perceived as classics, these artists’ works remain core to MoMA’s collection. This gallery includes a number of paintings from that first show, as well as works by the four artists that arrived at MoMA in subsequent years.
Organized by Ann Temkin, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, with Lydia Mullin, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture.