October 10, 2012  |  Behind the Scenes, Library and Archives
Artists in Their Own Words: The MoMA Oral History Program

The transcripts of the Oral History Program have long been a central part of The  Museum of Modern Art Archives, known to many in scholarly circles as an unrivaled primary source for the collective memory of MoMA’s history. The collection of Oral History transcripts has been meticulously and diligently maintained since 1991.

Being an oral historian, it is hardly a surprise that I harbor a certain affection for the transcript; the transcribed words and language lend a texture and vibrancy to any bare historical fact. For me, the narrator of the oral history transcript presents a whisper from history, one that my imagination has always strained to hear the nuance and accent of the narrator’s voice.

MoMA is pleased to announce the expansion of its Oral History Program. In 2011–12, through the generosity of an anonymous donor, the Archives undertook an Artist Oral History Initiative. The initiative was an intensive yearlong collaboration between the Archives and many museum curators to create filmed interviews with prominent artists who are well represented in the Museum’s collection and who have a long and rich history with the institution. The artists were interviewed by curators and independent art historians, and the interviews were filmed in the presence of the artist’s artworks, allowing an unprecedented opportunity for the artist to engage with and comment on his or her work.

The Museum of Modern Art Archives has just launched its Oral History website to showcase the results of this special initiative. Now you can access video excerpts and the complete transcripts of the Artist Oral History interviews with the click of a mouse. (The complete filmed interviews are available for consultation in the MoMA Archives.) Furthermore, with this new site the Archives has for the first time posted online 80 transcripts from the institutional Oral History Program, dating from 1991 to 2011.

Many times over the years, historians may have leaned back and wishfully sighed after closing a transcript, longing to hear a voice or see the person. Now this is a reality. Now you can hear Vito Acconci’s low husky laugh, see Yvonne Rainer’s graceful arms, share walks with James Rosenquist through galleries, and join Vija Celmins as she reflects on the creation of her works.

Read our history, hear our history, see our history.