The Museum of Modern Art in New York City is a fascinating brand name in the museum world. Since it was founded in 1929, the institution’s goal was not only to show what’s happening in contemporary art, but also to shape the very definition of what art “is” and which role it should play in contemporary life. A recent chapter in this quest was the inclusion of 14 videogames into the MoMA collection, a move that has been discussed and even disapproved of widely.
During the first years of MoMA’s existence, the discussions on what is museum-worthy and what isn’t usually revolved around the then new abstract forms of art. Alfred J. Barr, the museum’s first director, is known to have fought intensely for the museum to collect and exhibit abstract art.
For his 1936 exhibition “Cubism and Abstract Art”, he invented this famous diagram for the cover of the catalogue. The piece is generally understood as an attempt to provide the young genre of abstract art, which had seemingly broken with all ties to academical art traditions, with something of a history, even a “family tree”.
For their recent exhibition “Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925” (which is running only a few more days), MoMA has taken up this strand of their tradition and created an interactive network graph which is a clear reminiscence of the 1936 diagram.
It charts the personal relations between the artists represented in the exhibition. Featuring prominently on the exhibition’s website, it provides a great navigation tool to explore individual contents about the many artists represented. Besides this very practical use in regards to the website, the graph also conveys a sense of how the early abstract art scene was really a close knit (and small) network of people who fought hard for their idea of a new art …
UPDATE May 28th, 2013: Watch Paola Antonelli’s great talk about her efforts in collecting great examples of interaction design and video games for MoMA’s design collection and how she understands the different functions of MoMA’s collections of art on the one hand and design on the other.