MoMA’s Revisionism Is Piecemeal and Problem-Filled: Feminist Art Historian Maura Reilly on the Museum’s Rehang
October 31, 2019 - Artnews, Maura Reilly
During the 1990s, while pursuing my graduate art history degree at New York University, I worked in the Education Department of the Museum of Modern Art, where I led gallery tours of the museum’s permanent collection for the general public and occasionally VIPs. At that time, the permanent exhibition galleries, representing art produced from 1880 to the mid-1960s, were arranged to tell the “story” of modern art as conceived by founding director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., beginning with Monet and Cézanne, and then leading into Picasso, Futurism, Surrealism, and Jackson Pollock. According to Barr, “modern art” was a synchronic, linear progression of “isms” in which one (heterosexual, white) male “genius” from Europe or the U.S. influenced another who inevitably trumped or subverted his previous master, thereby producing an avant-garde progression. Barr’s story was so ingrained in the institution that it was never questioned as problematic. The fact that very few women, artists of color, and those not from Europe or North America—in other words, all “Other” artists—were not on display was not up for discussion. Indeed, I was dissuaded by my boss from cheekily offering a tour of “women artists in the collection” at a time when there were only eight on view.
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