From an initial gift of eight prints and one drawing in 1929, MoMA’s collection has bloomed to nearly 200,000 works across six curatorial departments—Painting and Sculpture, Drawings and Prints, Media and Performance Art, Photography, Film, and Architecture and Design—including everything from Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) to Maya Deren’s lush film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), lithographs by Lorna Simpson (1994), and a Giro bike helmet (2003).
Stewarding the collection is one of MoMA’s highest charges, and a key part of this involves ensuring its continued refinement and growth through acquisitions—the addition of artworks to the collection. These additions deepen our holdings of certain bodies of work and fill gaps in the stories of modern and contemporary art that we hope to tell. Acquisitions come to us in different ways. Some arrive as gifts from collectors; in 2008, the world’s largest collection of Fluxus work was donated by Gilbert and Lila Silverman, who spent 30 years amassing several thousand drawings, archival materials, sculptural objects, ephemera, and books. Curators might also purchase an artist’s work after seeing it on view in a gallery. This was the case with Richard Serra’s Equal (2015), a monumental work installed at David Zwirner Gallery this summer and acquired by the Museum soon afterward. Works might become available suddenly, by good fortune and chance, or after years of conversations with an artist.
Whatever the case, collection building involves significant research by curators and an ongoing reevaluation of MoMA’s history and priorities. Curators are behind-the-scenes champions of their proposed works; they shepherd them through this entire process, advocating for them passionately to colleagues who may or may not share their enthusiasm, and then to departmental committees, who vote on acquisitions on behalf of the Museum’s trustees. The six committees each meet quarterly—totaling 24 meetings per year—and each meeting covers anywhere from several to several dozen artworks. It’s through acquisitions that MoMA’s collection remains dynamic and continuously evolving.
For these reasons, acquisitions excite us. These are works we believe in by artists we admire, and we look forward to sharing them with you more and more in the coming months. Over the next few weeks, we’ll introduce the wide-ranging works that were added to the collection through the Department of Media and Performance Art’s December 11 committee meeting, from David Tudor’s historic sound installation Rainforest V (1973–2015) to Tabor Robak’s multi-screen 3-D video (2013). In late January, we’ll turn to the Department of Painting and Sculpture as they usher in their own selections.
Get updates and behind-the-scenes insights about new acquisitions here and on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter using #MoMAcollects. To see more recent additions to the collection, visit the website.