Alfred H. Barr, Jr., founding Director of The Museum of Modern Art, wrote in the introduction to the catalogue for Cubism and Abstract Art (MoMA Exh. #46, March 2-April 19, 1936) that the exhibition was “intended as an historical survey of an important movement in modern art.” It was the first in a series of five exhibitions that were curated between 1936 and 1943 devoted to the principal movements in modern art. The series also included Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (MoMA Exh. #55, December 7, 1936-January 17, 1937) and Romantic Painting in America (MoMA Exh. #246, November 11, 1943-February 6, 1944). This chart, hand-drawn by Barr, illustrates the historical development, currents and crosscurrents of modern art. It was a working draft of the first version of the chart that would appear on the dust jacket of the catalogue for Cubism and Abstract Art. Barr reworked the chart a number times thereafter; he never considered it definitive.

The idea for the exhibition stemmed from Barr’s days as an art history instructor at Wellesley College, where he designed and taught an innovative course in modern art. To a study of modern painting and sculpture, he added photography, architecture, graphic art, music and film. At that time there was no precedent for such a course; it was the first of its kind at an institution of higher learning.

Cubism and Abstract Art occupied all four floors of the Museum’s gallery space at 11 West 53rd Street, at that time a five-story town house leased from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., husband of founding Trustee Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. The exhibition included not only painting and sculpture but also examples of photography, architecture, furniture, designs for the theater, typography, posters, and films, for a total of nearly 400 works of art. Alexander Calder’s A Mobile (1936) was hung from a flagpole above the street entrance. The opening of the exhibition was delayed for one week while Museum officials and Trustees debated with the United States Customs over the entry of nineteen abstract sculptures into the United States as art objects loaned for the exhibition.