Mission Statement

The Museum of Modern Art Archives was established in 1989 by resolution of the Board of Trustees, under the authority of the General Counsel, to preserve and make accessible the Museum’s historical records to Museum staff, outside scholars, and researchers, and to create and direct the Museum’s Records Management Program. Additionally, the Museum Archives is the custodian of primary source material and other historical documentation related to twentieth-century art.


The purpose of The Museum of Modern Art Archives is to organize, preserve, and make accessible records not in current use and to collect documentation relevant to the work of the institution, including: a) records relevant to the Museum’s history (minutes, committee reports, departmental papers, photographs, sound recordings, and videotapes); b) personal papers of curators and directors when relevant to Museum interests or history; c) papers of individuals related to Museum interests, such as Trustees and former staff; d) oral histories; e) twentieth-century primary resource material, including papers, manuscripts, and photographs; f) a photographic archive comprised of tens of thousands of images. The Museum Archives provides necessary research support in order to enrich and enhance the Museum’s curatorial and educational missions.


The Museum Archives exists under the authority of the Museum’s Senior Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and are directed by a professional archivist who is also responsible for the Museum’s Records Management Program. Sensitive data is protected, evidentiary values and provenance are observed, and copyright and privacy issues are respected; basic conservation methods are employed.


The Archives serves outside researchers as well as Museum staff. Users are informed of the Museum’s archival resources through finding aids available on the Museum Archives website. Certain archival records have been microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, which makes them available internationally through inter-library loan.


The Archives staff includes a full-time Chief of Archives, professional archivists, and a part-time coordinator. Additional staff consists of grant-funded project archivists, fellows, and interns.

Institutional Records Policy

This policy statement outlines the procedures for the maintenance and disposition of the records of The Museum of Modern Art and establishes the authority and responsibility for its Archives and Records.

I. Definitions

A.1. MoMA Archives

Non-current records of Museum departments or programs that are selected for permanent preservation because of their art historical or sociopolitical value, research potential, or legal importance; these include manuscript material, audio and video recordings of museum related events, microfilm, and oral histories.

A.2. Personal and Professional Papers

Documentation relating to an individual’s private life or to personal activities is likely to be kept in his/her office; the distinction between personal, professional, and official institutional records frequently must be resolved on an independent basis. However, staff members who contribute significantly to the Museum’s official activities through personal scholarly interests have been and should be encouraged to give the Museum Archives such papers as relate to their professional careers, for they constitute an essential supplement to the official records. In the same manner Trustees of the Museum should also be encouraged to give to the Museum Archives such papers as relate to their participation in the affairs of the Museum. Questions about these matters should be addressed to the Museum Archivist or the General Counsel.

B. Twentieth-Century Manuscript Collection

Unpublished documentation, including correspondence, typescripts, photographs, ephemera, and other primary source material, previously maintained by the Library and generated by organizations or individuals important to the history of twentieth-century art. These holdings are now under the custodianship of the Archives as they require special handling and access, and they reflect the varied interests and concerns of the Museum programs. Future acquisitions in this area should include primary source material that directly addresses the history of modern and contemporary art as it relates to the work and the broadly defined mission of the Museum.

C. MoMA Records

Non-curatorial documentation created or received by MoMA staff in the course of official Museum business, as described in the Guide to the Records Management Program of The Museum of Modern Art, is to be given to the Archives. All MoMA records are institutional property and cannot be destroyed or removed from the premises except in accordance with established procedures.

II. MoMA Archives

A. Responsibilities

The Museum of Modern Art seeks to preserve its historical records and the professional papers of Museum curators, administrators, and associated individuals for research use. The Museum Archives is the official repository for these records. The Museum Records Management Program insures the orderly transition and disposition of Museum documentation, including individual staff papers and departmental records, so that the institution’s historical record is complete and uninterrupted.

B. Additional Activities

The Museum of Modern Art Archives also seeks to acquire material from private sources to supplement the official record and to provide a more complete documentation of the Museum’s policies and activities. Acquisition of donated material must be documented by a deed of gift or a letter detailing conditions of acceptance of such a gift; such material is to be administered under the same conditions as official institutional records. The Museum Archives supplements its manuscript records by directing an oral history program for recording the reminiscences of selected former staff and other individuals with significant knowledge of the institution’s history.

III. Records Management

  1. Timely transfer of unnecessary records is important to ensuring preservation of archival materials. The Archivist reviews records and, with the advice of the Museum’s General Counsel, determines which records are of sufficient historical value to warrant permanent preservation after they are no longer relevant to the Museum’s current activities. The Guide to Records Management gives detailed instructions for transferring departmental records to the Museum Archives. It includes retention and disposal schedules that authorize periodic disposal of records, future review of records, and transfer of materials to the Archives. It was formulated and written in consultation with department heads.

  2. Administrators and department heads are responsible for the creation and maintenance of documentation of activities under their jurisdiction and for the transfer of appropriate records to the Museum Archives. Since archival papers are maintained in the order in which they were created, the departments should be conscientious about preserving the integrity of current files. The archivist should be consulted before files are dismantled or transferred to other locations to insure that the provenance of records is maintained.

  3. Museum staff should be aware that the policy of the Museum does not permit unauthorized destruction of institutional records. Other dispersal of institutional records is also prohibited. Records of insufficient long-term value to justify permanent preservation in the Archives can only be disposed of with the approval of the department head, the General Counsel, and the Archivist.

  4. Electronic records are documents, created or received by MoMA staff in the course of official Museum business, that exist exclusively in electronic format. Electronic records are considered institutional property and as such are governed by the Museum Archives / Records Management Program Policy. Procedures for the orderly transfer and disposition or safekeeping of these records are currently under development.

Manuscript Collections Development Policy

This collection development policy refers exclusively to manuscript collecting from non-MoMA sources. Please see the Museum Archives Policy statement for additional information regarding the institutional archives and the Records Management Program.

Background of Manuscript Collections in the Museum Archives

The Museum of Modern Art Archives was formally established in 1989 by resolution of the Board of Trustees and under the auspices of the Museum’s General Counsel to organize, preserve, and make accessible the Museum’s historical documents and primary resources, as well as to collect primary source material relevant to the work of the institution. In order to ensure the preservation of relevant institutional documentation, the Museum Archives created and directs the Museum’s Records Management Program. In 1995 the administrative oversight of the Museum Archives shifted from the General Counsel to the Education and Research Support division. In 1998, with the transfer of primary source materials from the Library’s special collections, the Museum Archives expanded its mission, becoming a repository of manuscript collections as well. The placement of the manuscript collections under the auspices of the Museum Archives is part of the Museum’s effort to consolidate and preserve primary source research materials, reflecting the institution’s mission to sustain “a library, archives, and conservation laboratory that are recognized as international centers of research.” Accessible to both Museum staff and the public, the Museum Archives is an international center of research for the study of modern and contemporary art.

Definitions of Manuscript Collections

The manuscript collections of the Museum Archives fall into four categories:

  • Personal papers and records of individuals

  • Records of organizations, businesses, movements, and voluntary associations

  • Accumulations of manuscript material pertaining to a single theme, person, event, or type of record

  • Individual manuscripts (such materials are sought by the Museum Archives when they build on existing strengths and add to documentation for which the Museum Archives already has comprehensive holdings)

Scope of the Collections

The Museum Archives Manuscript Collections consist of materials generated by organizations or individuals important to the history of art from the late nineteenth-century to the present that reflect the Museum’s collections and programming. These collections consist of primary source material, including correspondence, typescripts, reports, research materials, photographs, financial records, scrapbooks, diaries, annotated books, audio-visual recordings, press clippings and printed ephemera. Currently, the majority of manuscript collections in the Museum Archives are in English, with a few in German, French and Russian. In addition, the majority of the material is from North America and Europe, with a small amount from Latin America. The manuscript collections exist to support, supplement, and complement programs of research, education, and scholarship at the Museum.

Criteria for New Acquisitions

Every potential acquisition of manuscript material will undergo rigorous scrutiny, with close consideration given to the following guidelines:

  • The material directly addresses the history of modern and contemporary art as it relates to the work and the broadly defined mission of the Museum.

  • The manuscripts reflect and complement the Museum’s mission of establishing, preserving, and documenting a permanent collection of the highest order and of education about the vitality, complexity, and unfolding patterns of modern and contemporary art and culture. Specifically, the papers of prominent artists, architects, designers, dealers, critics, scholars, art historians, arts organizations, or galleries that document the development of modern art as defined by this Museum, would be relevant.

  • The collection will serve the Museum Archives’ primary audience of Museum curators and staff. In addition, it will generate broadly based research interest among those studying the visual arts from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century.

  • The chronological boundaries of the materials coincide with the period covered by the Museum’s art collections, that is roughly 1840 to the present.

  • As the Museum’s Film Study Center is currently responsible for film material, documents related to cinema, video, and related film media will not be collected. This policy may be revised in the future.

  • The items have a global art-historical importance. The Museum Archives is not the appropriate repository for items of strictly regional or U. S. interest.

  • The collections are of a stable media (i.e., the Museum Archives does not accession electronic records at this time).

  • The Museum Archives will have sole ownership over the materials, even if the copyright resides elsewhere. The Museum Archives, however, consistently requests that the donor of a collection of papers transfer the copyright interests in the collection to the Museum. This is specified in the Deed of Gift. In addition, the Museum Archives will only accept collections that are free from access restrictions imposed by the donor. The materials will be accessible to the Museum staff and public under the current access guidelines of the Museum Archives (see the Museum Archives Access Policy for additional information).

  • Expenses related to the arrangement, description and preservation of collections should be minimal or offset through donations, which will be solicited at the time of the gift or purchase of the related materials. The potential impact on Museum Archives staff and facilities will be measured when considering new acquisitions.

  • The primary collecting scope will be materials in English, Spanish, French and German, from North America, South America, and Europe; this does not exclude collecting of materials in any other language or from any other geographical area.

As part of the review process, the Museum Archives will work closely with curatorial staff, as appropriate.

The Museum Archives will also make every effort to work collaboratively with other manuscript collecting repositories. In addition, it will direct potential donors to the most suitable institution, if the collection is not germane to its holdings.

Other documents are available that relate to the holdings, acquisition policies, principles, and procedures of the Museum Archives. These include the Museum Archives Mission Statement, Policy Statement, List of Holdings, Deed of Gift Form, Records Management Procedures, Access Policy, Photocopy Policy and Permission to Publish Application.

Access Policy

  1. The Museum Archives seeks to make records available for research use to the fullest extent. It is recognized that some records must be restricted to protect the legitimate interests of the Museum and the privacy of individuals. Those materials that must be closed temporarily in accordance with Museum policy or donor restrictions will be reviewed from time to time and opened as soon as the need for restriction has passed.

  2. Unprocessed materials are not available to outside researchers, but may be consulted by staff members in the course of their research for the Museum.

  3. All processed records may be used by outside researchers. (Selected records, less than ten years old, may require the consent of the department head and/or Museum Archivist.)

  4. Certain information, such as condition, prices, and current insurance values of works of art are not available to outside users. Records pertaining to anonymous donors, fundraising, personnel, and Board of Trustee and Committee meetings are restricted.

  5. Records are arranged, described, and stored according to generally accepted archival standards; depending upon demand and potential research value, selected material may be processed in greater or lesser detail.

  6. Users are informed of the Museum’s archival resources through finding aids available on the Museum Archives website. Certain Record Groups are available on microfilm through the Archives of American Art, both at their research centers and through international inter-library loan.

  7. Permission to study archival material does not include the right to photocopy or publish the contents.

  8. Written permission must be obtained from the Museum Archives to publish reproductions of documents or substantial quotes from them. Permission is contingent on the researcher agreeing to indemnify The Museum of Modern Art for any loss, damage or expense to third parties arising from such publication. The Museum of Modern Art makes no representation that it is the owner of any copyright or other literary property in research materials made available for use. The researcher is responsible for determining the nature of any rights and the ownership or interest therein, obtaining permission to publish or use, and determining the nature of any possible liabilities that may result from publication or use.

In giving permission to reproduce archival materials The Museum of Modern Art does not surrender its own rights to publish the materials or to grant permission to others to publish them; nor does the Museum assume any responsibility for infringement of copyright.

The Museum Archives website was generously funded by the Trustee Committee on Archives, Library, and Research.