What is in the MoMA Archives?
The Museum of Modern Art Archives collects, preserves, and makes accessible primary source documentation relating to modern and contemporary art. These records include the Museum’s exhibition files, personal papers of curators and directors, press office records, sound and video recordings of events, and other material. The Archives is also a repository for select manuscript collections generated by outside organizations or individuals that are relevant to the Museum’s collections and programming. These include the papers or business records of writers, artists, dealers, and galleries. For a full list of our collections, you may refer to our list of holdings.
Who should research in the Archives?
Researchers should exhaust all published resources before accessing the Archives. For published resources, you can visit the Museum’s Library. We also have a select list of published reading on MoMA history. Archives researchers should be those who require access to original documentation for specific purposes.
What is a finding aid?
A finding aid is a descriptive guide for an archival collection. Typically it includes information about the origin, history, content, date, and format of the records, as well as the physical and intellectual arrangement imposed upon them by the archivist. Most of the finding aids for collections in our holdings include a folder-level inventory. Note: because our Archives contains several million documents, it is not feasible to describe or catalog each item. Most of our collections are described at the folder level.
How do I research a particular artist or work of art?
One way to find material in the MoMA Archives related to a particular artist is a keyword search across our collections. However, keep in mind that the MoMA Archives does not maintain artist or object files. Most of our records are organized by MoMA exhibition or event title, rather than by artist name.
If the artist/artwork you’re researching was the subject of a MoMA exhibition, the MoMA Exhibition Records for that show may be useful. While the Exhibition Records are not specifically object-focused, they often have relevant information about the included artists or artworks. For example, there might be interesting information about Georgia O’Keeffe in the MoMA Exhibition Records for Georgia O’Keeffe [MoMA Exh. #319, May 14–August 25, 1946], an early MoMA retrospective of her work. To figure out which exhibitions featured a particular artist, you can search MoMA’s Artists page.
Individual curatorial departments hold artist and object files concerning works in the MoMA collection available for advanced research requests. For access to these files, researchers should contact the appropriate curatorial study center, using the contact information on the Study Center website.
Please also keep in mind that most of our holdings relate to artists who are represented in the MoMA collection or have been exhibited at the Museum.
How do I search the Archives for material related to my topic?
Researchers may keyword search across all the finding aids (inventories) to our collections on our holdings page. Doing so will produce a list of those finding aids that include the search term entered. You will then need to open each finding aid separately and search within for more detailed information, including the relevant folder or item numbers. When requesting an appointment, researchers must provide the collection title and folder number found in the left-hand column (ex. Dorothy Miller Papers, I.14.a-c).
A keyword search is a good place to start any research, but we also recommend reading through any relevant finding aids. Archival collections are organic, and most are too voluminous to be described on an item level. A researcher should consider the context and method in which the various collections were created. For instance, if you were looking for Alan Blackburn correspondence, you might start by doing a keyword search of “blackburn.” But the René d’Harnoncourt Papers include folders like “General Correspondence A–C, 1940s,” “General Correspondence D–F, 1940s,” etc. There may indeed be correspondence with Alan Blackburn in this collection, but it wouldn’t come up in your keyword search. So it’s important to keep in mind that you might need to spend time reading the finding aids after your initial keyword search. Our staff can help direct you to collections that may be relevant if you’re not finding material on your topic.
Please note that researchers should exhaust all published resources before consulting the Archives. Archives research is reserved for those who require access to original documentation for specific purposes. A good source for published resources concerning modern artists, artworks, movements, and exhibitions is the Museum’s Library. You may search the Library’s catalog online, and then request a Library appointment via their online form.
How do I research a particular MoMA exhibition?
A good way to begin is on our MoMA exhibition history website. This digital archive includes exhibition catalogues (when out-of-print), checklists, installation photographs, and press releases from the Museum’s first exhibition in 1929 till today.
Once you’ve looked at what’s available online, you might want to do a deeper dive into our undigitized material. Our MoMA Exhibition Records contain correspondence with artists and lenders, internal memoranda, curatorial research, material about the catalogue, and so forth. There’s often information about decisions made in the planning of the show and the overall thought process behind the exhibition. These files are split into groups by year:
- The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records, 1929–1959
- The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records, 1960–1969
- The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records, 1970–1979
- The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition Records, 1980–1989
Exhibition Records for shows from 1990 onwards are currently not available. Museum policy dictates that Exhibition Records are closed for 15 years after a show ends, and then must be vetted and processed before being opened for research. We just opened all of the Museum’s exhibition files up to the year 1989, and we’re currently processing the records dating from 1990 through 2000, in a project with the support of the Leon Levy Foundation. Those files will be available in late 2020.
The MoMA Exhibition Records are a great place to start any exhibition research, but you might find useful material in our other collections, too. Press reviews, for example, would be in our Department of Public Information Scrapbooks, and audio recordings of related panel discussions would be in our collection of Sound Recordings. To do a broader search to find materials useful to your research, we recommend doing a keyword search of the finding aids on our holdings page.
How do I consult archival materials?
Access to nearly all of our holdings requires an on-site appointment. Our reading room is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m., by appointment. The schedule tends to fill several weeks in advance. You may submit an appointment request using our online form.
Prior to scheduling an appointment, we ask that you send a list of the specific material you wish to consult. A list of our collections and information about access is available on our holdings page. This website also allows you to search across all of the finding aids (inventories) to our collections. Doing so will produce a list of those that include the search term entered. You will then need to open each finding aid separately and search within for more detailed information, including the relevant folder or item numbers.
Please send us a list of any material you wish to view—we ask that you provide the collection title and folder identifier only (ex. Dorothy Miller Papers, I.14.a-c)—and we will schedule your appointment.
Are any of your materials available remotely (e.g., as digital scans)?
Access to most of our materials requires an on-site appointment. However, our MoMA Archives Image Database (MAID) contains a select but growing body of materials digitized from our collections. You may search MAID by keyword or browse by date range. Also, our MoMA exhibition history site contains digitized exhibition catalogues, installation photographs, press releases, and master checklists compiled by exhibition.
A few of our collections have been microfilmed and are available by interlibrary loan through the Archives of American Art (AAA), Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Those collections include the Lillie P. Bliss Scrapbook; the Public Information Scrapbooks; and much of the Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers. To access these microfilms, you may contact the AAA by telephone at (202) 633-7950 or use their online reference service. To request the microfilm, you should ask for “The Museum of Modern Art” [Collection Title]; [MoMA microfilm reel number, frame number]. For example, to see folder I.A.6 from the Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers you would request “‘The Museum of Modern Art’ Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers; mf 2164:760.” You can find the microfilm numbers by searching the finding aids on our holdings page.
Lastly, the Museum’s press releases have also been digitized and are available on the Press Release Archives website, organized by year. Please note that some of the press releases do not load correctly when viewed using Google Chrome; we recommend that researchers use Mozilla Firefox or Safari for consulting the press releases.
I don’t live in the New York area. Can I order photocopies, or can MoMA Archives staff do research on my behalf?
Due to the extremely high volume of requests our small staff receives, we can’t offer the service of consulting material and/or making photocopies on behalf of researchers. If you can’t visit, the following contact information will assist you in identifying and hiring a local research assistant who can visit on your behalf:
To identify local graduate students for hire, contact the Columbia University graduate program in art history or the Institute of Fine Arts. The requester should submit a brief proposal outlining the research required, complete contact information, and the amount they are willing to pay. Proposals should be sent to:
For MA and PhD students at Columbia: firstname.lastname@example.org
For graduate students at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University: email@example.com
I own an artwork. Can the MoMA Archives confirm that it is by a particular artist and/or tell me how much it is worth?
As a matter of policy, MoMA staff cannot assist in authenticating or appraising works of art that are not in the Museum collection. We recommend you contact one of the following organizations for assistance:
The Appraisers Association of America
386 Park Avenue South, Suite 2000
New York, NY 10016
Phone: (212) 889-5404
Fax: (212) 889-5503
Visiting the MoMA Archives
How do I schedule an appointment with the MoMA Archives?
You may request an appointment using our online form. Our reading room is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Please note that the appointment schedule tends to fill up a week or two in advance, sometimes more.
Before scheduling an appointment, we ask that researchers consult the finding aids (inventories) to collections in our holdings and send us a list of the specific folders they want to view during their visit. Researchers can keyword search across all of our finding aids on our holdings page. A search will produce a list of those finding aids that include the search term entered. You will then need to open each finding aid separately and search within for more detailed information, including the relevant folder or item numbers. When requesting an appointment, researchers should provide the collection title and folder identifier only (ex. Dorothy Miller Papers, I.14.a-c).
May I bring someone (e.g. a research assistant) with me to my appointment?
Yes, if space allows. If you would like to bring a guest, you must indicate this in your original appointment request. We can only accommodate assistants with sufficient advance notice, as seating is limited.
Who can make an appointment in the MoMA Archives? Do I need a letter of introduction from a university?
The MoMA Archives is open to any researcher with a demonstrated need to access archival resources. You do not need to be affiliated with a particular institution or university, nor do you need a letter of introduction.
However, researchers should exhaust all published resources before consulting the Archives. Archives researchers should be those who require access to original documentation for specific purposes. For more general research and published resources, we recommend contacting MoMA’s Library. You may search the Library’s catalog online, and then request a Library appointment via their online form.
Please also keep in mind that the Archives appointment calendar tends to fill up a week or two in advance.
Can I make photocopies or photograph items during my visit?
Researchers may use small, handheld cameras or smartphones to photograph archival materials, provided such photographs are used for study purposes only, and as allowed at the discretion of the archivist. After approving items for photography, the reference archivist will provide the researcher with a sheet that contains the proper citation for each item. This citation sheet must be visible in every photograph taken.
Researchers can also make up to 50 photocopies per day. The fee for copies is $0.25 per page. Payment is accepted in U.S. dollars or by personal check made out to “The Museum of Modern Art,” drawn on a U.S. bank. The reference archivist can provide change and a receipt.
All requests for photocopies or digital photographs are at the discretion of the archivist. Requests may be denied due to preservation reasons, among others.
Printouts from microfilm and internal databases are not limited in quantity, but they also cost $0.25 per page.
It is the researcher’s responsibility to keep accurate citations for all items photographed, which are required when ordering publication-quality images or requesting permission to quote.
Other equipment, including video cameras and personal scanners, is not permitted in the reading room.
Permissions and Publishing
How do I cite material consulted in the Archives, and do I need permission to publish it?
Researchers must obtain advance permission from the Archives to publish and/or quote from any archival material in our holdings. Please use the following form to ask for permission. It includes sample citation formats. The form can be submitted by post (to MoMA Archives, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019) or email (to firstname.lastname@example.org).
In addition, some collections require the approval of the donors or their estates. Furthermore, the researcher must independently comply with obtaining any necessary permissions from the copyright holder.
I’d like to publish an image of a document I saw in the Archives. How can I do this?
All requests for photographic reproductions of Archives materials and the related permission to publish should be directed to Art Resource (North America) or Scala Archives (all other geographic locations). Scala/Art Resource is the Museum’s exclusive agent for licensing and distribution of images to outside publishers and researchers.
For publication in North America (Canada, USA, Mexico), please contact:
For publication in all other geographical locations, please contact:
Archives documents that have already been digitized are readily available through Scala/Art Resource. You can browse through the MoMA Archives Image Database (MAID) to see what’s already been digitized. But for documents that have not yet been digitized, you would first need to physically identify the document in our collection, which you would do during an appointment in the reading room. Then you would contact Scala/Art Resource, who will work with the Museum’s staff to have the item scanned.
I’d like to publish an image of a MoMA artwork in my book. How do I get permission?
All image licensing requests should be directed to Art Resource (North America) or Scala Archives (all other geographic locations), which supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum’s Imaging Studios. These include requests to reproduce an image of an artwork in MoMA’s collection, an image of a MoMA publication (including book covers, pages, and spreads), or an image of archival materials (including installation views, checklists, and press releases). If the image you’re looking for is not displayed on Art Resource or Scala’s website, you can send an email with the object information to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For publication in North America (Canada, USA, Mexico), please contact:
For publication in all other geographical locations, please contact: