For questions about Art Research that are not included here, please email, call (212) 708-9433, or fax (212) 333-1122.

How do I research an artist?

Start with general, authoritative secondary sources. For example, search for authoritative biographies and terms. These are derived from Grove Art Online, accessible in full at the library. Another major biographical dictionary is the Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon, available at the library. Specialized biographical dictionaries can also be useful. These may focus on artists by nationality, ethnic background, gender, or medium. Many of these are available at the MoMA library and other art libraries.

Get more specific. Consult monographs (a work focusing on one artist), exhibition catalogs, biographies, periodicals, and interviews. These sources usually have bibliographies or footnotes, pointing you to still more sources. When consulting databases such as library catalogs or periodical indexes, first search by subject for the artist’s name.

Widen your scope by consulting other secondary source collections. To search many library collections at once, use the WorldCat or catalogs. WorldCat in particular compiles the holdings of major libraries worldwide, primarily in North America and Europe. Results can be sorted by zipcode, city, state, or country.

Ask your local librarian. Nothing readily available? It’s easy to miss things on the first try.

How do I research a work of art?

A good first step is to seek a catalogue raisonné of the artist. A catalogue raisonné is a publication (usually a book) that attempts to comprehensively document the works of one artist. Entries for each work sometime list scholarly sources where the work has been discussed.

No catalogue raisonné for your artist? Get more specific. More specialized sources can help you make inferences about a work, even if it’s not mentioned specifically.

Still no leads? Unfortunately few books or articles are devoted entirely to one work, so it’s time to get creative. Is the work from a particular movement, time period, genre, or collection? If so, seek out sources along those lines.

How do I get an artwork evaluated, authenticated, or appraised?

Neither the library nor MoMA does authentications, appraisals, or evaluation. Here are two alternatives:

  • Research the work on your own. For general guidance, see above. For valuation in particular, you may be able to locate comparable works using auction results databases, several of which are available at the library.
  • Work with an appraiser. Please see the Appraisers Association of America for more information.

What’s the difference between primary and secondary sources?

Secondary sources are published materials such as books, journals and newspapers, press releases, and authoritative web sites. Secondary sources are generally collected by libraries and are inventoried in catalogs such as DADABASE. Catalog content may be limited to simple citations (directing you a physical object such as a book) or it may be fully integrated with digital content such as databases or full-text journals.

Primary sources are unpublished materials such as letters and memos, draft documents, internal reports, technical drawings, and other forms of direct documentation (moving images, sound recordings, transcripts, photographs). Primary source materials are generally collected by archives and inventoried in finding aids. For example, the Museum Archives maintains authoritative primary sources concerning MoMA (and other aspects of modern art).

To discover archival collections, consult the ArchiveGrid database, available at the library. Archival collections and finding aids are also readily discoverable through Google searches.


“dorothea lange” archive
“philip johnson” “finding aid”

How can I contact an expert?

The library doesn’t make referrals to individuals. We can help you find authoritative research materials, which in turn may lead to names of particular scholars and commentators.

What does “fair use” mean?

US copyright law governs photocopies, scans, photographs, and other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, works may be reproduced for “fair use.” One condition of “fair use” is that a reproduction may not be used “for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” Abiding by copyright law is the responsibility of the researcher. The library reserves the right to decline reproduction if, in its judgment, copyright is being infringed.

See also May I reproduce a work in the collection? and May I reproduce text or images from a MoMA publication?

Updated October 2011