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  • Writer's pictureVishakha

Must See Paintings At the Museum of Modern Art in New York





Any art lover’s trip to New York City will always be incomplete without visiting the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The famous art museum is a treasure trove of contemporary art with an unrivaled collection from the late 19th - 20th century. Witnessing the pioneering works from different schools of modern art is an unparalleled experience that you must not miss. You can find artifacts from the post-impressionism era, cubism, suprematism, and a vivid collection of other modern and pop artworks.

The entrance of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Undoubtedly, it is one of the best art museums to learn and witness modern art up close. However, the question is, how do you plan the trip with more than 100.000 artworks on display? If you are anxious about missing some of the universal favorites, then worry no more. Here is a list of the 5 best paintings that you can see at the MoMA museum and make it a trip worth remembering.

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh 

See The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

This listicle could not have started with any other modern painting housed by the Museum of Modern Art. The Starry Night is not only the best van Gogh painting but also one of the foundational works that paved the way for modernism. Vincent van Gogh painted it during his stay at the mental asylum and is said to be inspired by the view outside his room. With small hints of abstractionism, the painting is a reflection of van Gogh’s disturbed mental state.

The swirling brushstrokes are a result of quick spiraling movements, adding a sense of restlessness to the painting. The eerie cypress, also associated with death and cemeteries is a common element in his work. While this overall painting has a gloomy outlook, it also symbolizes hope in the form of small-lit houses. The sun, moon, and stars show the artist’s interest in the cosmos and his quest to seek meaning and spirituality in life. You can find this oil painting on the 5th floor in Gallery 1 of this modern art museum.

The Piano Lesson by Henri Matisse

See The Piano Lesson by Henri Matisse at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

This famous oil painting is a scene in Henri’s living room, the younger version of his eldest child Pierre, playing the piano with worried concentration. The abstracted green shape is their lawn, lit with a ray of sun and calling the little boy. The symbolic metronome shadow on his face shows his conflict to focus and give in to the merriments of life and go play.

In the upper right corner, there is a geometric shape of a woman which is actually Matisse’s another painting Woman on High Stool. In the lower-left corner, there is a nude sculpture, the Decorative Figure, adding hints of sensuality.  The rigid structure of the woman represents discipline whereas the curvy sculpture represents creative freedom. Hence this Matisse painting is actually a painting of another painting and a sculpture, balancing the entire composition.

While this might look like an absurd work at first glance, this highly abstract painting is actually a very thoughtful iconography. The more you look at this masterpiece, the more it will amaze you. You can observe and appreciate it on the 5th Floor, in Gallery 6 of MoMA museum, where you’ll also find the Woman on High School installed next to it.

The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau

See The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Who would have thought that one of the most famous modern artworks would come from a self-taught artist? Not only that, Rousseau's paintings were also often ridiculed and considered immature. Hence, the Sleeping Gypsy is one of those paintings that helped him gain recognition as an artist by his peers like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. He was in fact accidentally discovered by Picasso while trying to sell this painting as a used canvas on a sidewalk. 

This painting by a French naive artist is as simple as it is stunning. You can see the dark-skinned gypsy in deep slumber, representing innocence and the nomadic life, detached from material possessions. The lion lurking near her shoulder is the symbol of danger that is sometimes inevitable in life. Overall the painting is a perfect balance of danger and peace, hinted by the illumination and guidance of the moon and the solitude of the desert. Since Rousseau never left France, the painting is purely inspired by his imagination. You can experience this enigmatic piece of art in the online collection of the MoMA art museum.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso

See Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Also known as The Young Ladies of Avignon or the Brothel of Avignon, this is a famous example of cubism. At the time of its creation, it was considered an inappropriate artwork, causing widespread anger and controversy. The non-traditional depiction of nude females, extensive use of geometric abstraction, and Picasso’s utter disregard for established norms of art caused an uproar like never seen before.

The painting showing five nude female figures, detached from each other and gazing directly into the viewers' eyes took nine months to complete. The two women on the rightmost side have an African mask-like feature, showing Picasso’s keen interest in African masks and sculptures. Picasso took six months to just create his preparatory work before actually starting the final version of this cubist oil painting. It is now on permanent display in the 2nd Gallery on the 5th floor of the Museum of Modern Art.

Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair by Frida Kahlo

See the Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair by Frida Kahlo at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

An important aspect of creating modern artwork is being able to self-express through that piece. As an icon of self-expression, Frida Kahlo is the first name that pops up when it comes to exploring deeply personal issues through a work of art. Known for her self-portraits, she is mostly seen wearing her traditional Mexican dresses – the blouse, skirt, and shawl, in most of her paintings. However, in this particular Kahlo self-portrait, the artist chose to adorn masculine attire instead. 

The painting was a result of Kahlo’s divorce from Diego Rivera after his affair with Frida’s sister was revealed. You can see her shorn hair scattered on the floor around her as she sits on a chair wearing a suit – similar to Rivera’s style. While on paper Frida had left Diego, the painting tells that Diego had still not left her heart and mind, thus compelling her to transform her appearance like his. She even captioned the painting with a popular Mexican song: “Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don't love you anymore.”

Now this may come as a surprise to you but shortly after creating the painting, Frida remarried Kahlo upon a mutual understanding that neither could reform. This self-portrait is the first Frida Kahlo painting acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. It is now on display in the 17th Gallery on the 5th floor of the art museum.

Water Lilies by Claude Monet

See the Water Lilies Triptych by Claude Monet at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

The famous color artist created a series of 250 water lily paintings inspired by his water lily pond in Giverny. Monet dedicated the last 30 years of his life to creating these paintings as he moved to his Giverny home. The artist loved his water lilies and now this painting series stands as his best artistic achievement. His aim with the series was to create the impressions of the lilies under the play of light and shadows rather than capturing their exact details on the canvas.

An important thing to note in this painting series is that most of these are open-ended works where not every element has been included in the frame. For example, the skies in this triptych have not been depicted separately but simply as a reflection in the pond. Monet also avoided any man-made element in this series, except the one where he painted the Japanese garden-style bridge. 

Since Monet spent thirty years on the series, you can see the development of his impressionistic style throughout the 250 paintings. Upon viewing the ones created in the later years, you will see his brushstrokes getting wider and loser throughout. It was a result of his untreated cataract, that led to his failing vision. You can visit this water lily triptych by Monet in Gallery 15 on the 5th floor of MoMA.

A Brief Introduction to the Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Located in midtown Manhattan, the Museum of Modern Art is your go-to place for anyone who wants to explore the charisma of modern and contemporary art. It was inaugurated in 1929 by three patrons of art who wanted to create a devoted space for rapidly emerging modern art. The establishment that was conceived with just eight prints and one drawing now houses approximately 200,000 modern artworks. 

The Museum of Modern Art is known for its unrivaled collection of modern paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, design objects, etc. It also has a huge museum collection of film stills, periodicals, books, and individual files of over 90,000 artists in its archives. Interested students, researchers, and scholars can access these files from the study centers of different departments.

The Magic of Modern Art at MoMA

One of the most-visited art museums in the United States, MoMA attracts over 2 million visitors annually. It puts a lot of its work on rotational display for regular visitors and also hosts active exhibitions ranging from different themes, artists, eras, etc. You can also find programs running classic and contemporary films, performance art, family workshops, and a lot more to connect you with modern art. 

The list of paintings we have mentioned here is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you enter the premises, you can find extraordinary works of artists like Paul Cézanne, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Elizabeth Murray, and almost every other modern and contemporary artist that you can think of. So next time whenever you are in New York City, do not forget to visit this contemporary art museum and soak yourself into the magic of modern art at its finest.


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