What makes art modern? If you’re pondering the answer to that question, you’ve come to the right place. This itinerary is designed to give you a history of modern art through 9 unmissable artworks. You’ll find these works in our collection galleries on Floors 5, 4, and 2.

If you really want to level up on your art history knowledge, don’t forget to bring headphones! 🎧 All of these artworks are featured on MoMA’s audio playlists.

Paul Cézanne’s The Bather 🫧

Paul Cézanne. The Bather. c. 1885

Floor 5, Gallery 502
The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

“To me, what’s more important is its reality as a picture, rather than some reality in actual life.” Say that to someone in front of The Bather in Gallery 502 and they’ll think you’ve got a PhD in art history—and no need to mention you heard it from a curator on MoMA’s audio guide! To some, Paul Cézanne was the original modern artist, so this gallery is a great place to start. Plus, you’ll find Vincent van Gogh’s 🤩 The Starry Night in this gallery, too.

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Constantin Brâncuși’s Bird in Space 🪿

Constantin Brâncuși. Bird in Space. 1928

Floor 5, Gallery 508
The David Geffen Wing

How can you tell what’s art and what’s not? That’s a good question and we love that you asked it—it’s kinda what we’re here for. Brâncuși’s work challenged those distinctions. When he was transporting his sculptures from Europe to the United States in 1926, customs officials refused to acknowledge it was art—to them it just looked like industrial parts. Defending his work, Brâncuși sued the US government. Find out how the story ends by listening to the audio stop for Maiastra above, another Brâncuși sculpture on display in this gallery.

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Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Cropped Hair ✂️

Frida Kahlo. Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair. 1940

Floor 5, Gallery 517
The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

A lot of modern art is basically all about two things: experimentation and self-expression. To understand how self-expression comes into the picture, there’s no one better to look to than Frida Kahlo. In this portrait she defiantly presents herself in a gender nonconforming way, exploring various facets of her identity, while grappling with a recent divorce from her husband. Her parents said her marriage to Diego Rivera was like a marriage between a dove and an elephant—must’ve been nice in-laws for Diego!

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Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series 🚂

Jacob Lawrence. The Migration Series. 1940-41

Floor 5, Gallery 520
The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

Who gets to tell their story? Here, across 30 painted panels, Jacob Lawrence tells the story of the Great Migration—the mass migration of African Americans from the rural South to Northern cities in the US after World War I—from a personal perspective, as “a child of the Great Migration.” A true barrier-breaker, Lawrence was the first African American artist to have work in MoMA’s collection.

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Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950 🎨

Jackson Pollock. One: Number 31, 1950. 1950

Floor 4, Gallery 401
The David Geffen Galleries

You can’t come to MoMA without seeing some Abstract Expressionism. This was America’s first homegrown modern art movement, and it started here in New York City. It’s sometimes called gestural art, or action painting, because you can imagine the kinds of movements and gestures the artist used to apply the paint. Rumor has it, somewhere on this canvas is a dead fly, caught midair by one of Pollock’s splatters and now stuck forever in a work of art. First one to find it gets MoMA membership for life! (Okay, not really.)

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Robert Rauschenberg’s Canyon 🦅

Robert Rauschenberg. Canyon. 1959

Floor 4, Gallery 408
The David Geffen Wing

At the beginning of his career, Robert Rauschenberg was seen by some to be the next big Abstract Expressionist, but he had other ideas. He took stuff (aka: garbage) found on the streets of New York and put it in his art. And yes, that eagle was technically garbage. His friend, the artist Sari Dienes, found it in a dumpster just up the street from MoMA. To find out which fancy building the dumpster was outside of, listen to the audio guide.

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Yayoi Kusama’s Accumulation No. 1 🍆

Yayoi Kusama. Accumulation No. 1. 1962

Floor 4, Gallery 412
The David Geffen Wing

You may know her pumpkin sculptures or mirrored Infinity Rooms, but what about her chair covered with, in her word, “phalluses”? This is the first sculpture Yayoi Kusama ever made, and it shocked critics when she displayed it. Had a man made this sculpture, would it have shocked in quite the same way? Women artists, especially at this time, had to contend with a lot of discrimination, but Kusama never held back. She would sit on this chair and make phone calls, proving herself, in her own way, to be above men.

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Glenn Ligon’s Warm Broad Glow 🌟

Glenn Ligon. Warm Broad Glow. 2005

Floor 2, Gallery 209
The David Geffen Wing

“Any expression of Black joy is a kind of resistance,” Glenn Ligon says in our audio guide. Deftly weaving social commentary into what they create is something contemporary artists do brilliantly. While the words in this work of art were written by Gertrude Stein nearly 100 years ago, Ligon’s neon sculpture comments on race and identity in the United States today.

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Richard Serra’s Equal ⬛️

Richard Serra. Equal. 2015

Floor 2, Gallery 210
The David Geffen Wing

Phew! What you’ve seen so far has been a lot, so let’s end in a quiet space, with a monumental sculpture by an artist who’s been working for over 60 years. While a lot of modern and contemporary art aims to stimulate the mind, this work engages your body. Wherever you are in the gallery, you feel the presence of these massive blocks of steel. Each stack weighs 80 tons! Just let yourself feel that for a minute.

You can experience the meaning of works of art in more ways than one. Let this peaceful moment at MoMA stay with you before you return to the hustle and bustle of New York City. 🏙️

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Listen to more 🎧

Quiet spaces 🤫

  • Looking for somewhere a bit quieter? Selected to take you to some of the less-crowded spaces in the Museum, check out our other itinerary, The New Unmissables, which features art by less familiar but equally captivating artists.

Eating and shopping 🍝 🛍️

  • Hungry? We’re not only a destination for art, we’re also a destination for food! Whether you’re looking for fine dining, simple pasta for the kids, or coffee and a snack, we’ve got options for you. Check out our restaurant guide.
  • If you’re looking for memorable gifts for friends or family (or, let’s be honest, for yourself), you’ve come to the right place. Visit MoMA Design Stores (across from our main entrance on 53rd Street and downtown in Soho) and our Museum shops for all your shopping needs.