Browse Every Art Exhibition Held at MoMA Since 1929 with the New “MoMA Exhibition Spelunker”

More and more, muse­ums around the world are open­ing up their vast archives for free on the inter­net. We can browse broad col­lec­tions, or dig down deep into col­lec­tions and exam­ine indi­vid­ual works, or we can down­load hi-res­o­lu­tion jpgs of famous works and slap them on our new desk­top as wall­pa­per. (Dis­cus­sion: does this triv­i­al­ize a work or help us appre­ci­ate it?)

Indeed, Open­Cul­ture has linked to many of these and I’ve fol­lowed. And I’ve often returned over­whelmed or dis­ap­point­ed, not by the art, but by bad web design. Good inten­tions are one thing, but insti­tu­tions often turn to coders first, not design­ers. And there’s a dif­fer­ence.

Recent­ly we told you how the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art has put most of its near­ly 90 years of exhi­bi­tions online. Our own Col­in Mar­shall said:

The archive offers, in the words of Chief of Archives Michelle Ellig­ott, “free and unprece­dent­ed access to The Muse­um of Mod­ern Art’s ever-evolv­ing exhi­bi­tion his­to­ry” in the form of “thou­sands of unique and vital mate­ri­als includ­ing instal­la­tion pho­tographs, out-of-print exhi­bi­tion cat­a­logues, and more, begin­ning with MoMA’s very first exhi­bi­tion in 1929.”

Yet the inter­face is quite lack­ing, show­ing a blank search bar with no clue to how much lies beneath. Where to start, if you just want to browse?

Enter the data visu­al­iza­tion firm of Good, Form & Spec­ta­cle, who excel at pre­sent­ing archives in dif­fer­ent ways. Com­mis­sioned by MoMA to make some­thing from the data, the firm’s “MoMA Exhi­bi­tion Spe­lunk­er” offers 60 years of exhi­bi­tion data that can then be searched by “cura­tors, arrangers, design­ers, artists, and oth­ers” with con­nec­tions avail­able at every lev­el.

For exam­ple, the sec­ond ever MoMA exhib­it, “Painters by 19 Liv­ing Amer­i­cans” (1929 — 1930), fea­tured Edward Hop­per. The offi­cial archive will show you the exhi­bi­tion cat­a­log and press release. But go spelunk­ing and we dis­cov­er that up until 1989 (the end of the archive for now), Hop­per was fea­tured in 61 exhi­bi­tions, includ­ing 1943 where he was fea­tured in four exhibits in one year. What were those exhibits? Well, down the rab­bit hole you go.

Coder (and, full dis­clo­sure, friend since high school) Phil Gyford spoke about his work on the page:
A spe­lunk­er, accord­ing to Cham­bers, is “a per­son who explores caves as a hob­by” and we aimed to explore MoMA’s raw data and make it more vis­i­ble and pen­e­tra­ble by every­one else. It’s hard to get a decent sense of the shape of lists of data so we set off to explore.

Good, Form & Spec­ta­cle have worked on oth­er sleek and min­i­mal sites, includ­ing a Net­flix rec­om­men­da­tion engine, a small­er spe­lunk­er for the Vic­to­ria & Albert Muse­um, and a larg­er one for the British Muse­um.

But if you’re inter­est­ed in explor­ing a cen­tu­ry of exhi­bi­tions at MoMA, then spend as much time as you like with the “MoMA Exhi­bi­tion Spe­lunk­er.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Exhi­bi­tion Held at the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art (MoMA) Pre­sent­ed in a New Web Site: 1929 to Present

1.8 Mil­lion Free Works of Art from World-Class Muse­ums: A Meta List of Great Art Avail­able Online

Down­load 464 Free Art Books from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

Google Art Project Expands, Bring­ing 30,000 Works of Art from 151 Muse­ums to the Web

Down­load 397 Free Art Cat­a­logs from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

The Muse­um of Mod­ern Art (MoMA) Puts Online 65,000 Works of Mod­ern Art

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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