The Museum of Modern Art in New York is one of the best museums of that kind in the world. With its vast collection, it’s wise to plan which MoMA highlights you want to see before your visit. From one of the most famous paintings created by Vincent Van Gogh, to artworks made by Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse, this museum has something for everyone.
In the art world, the Museum of Modern Art in New York is considered home to one of the best collections of modern and contemporary art in the world. And when you look at some of the MoMA highlights, you quickly understand why that’s the case. Choosing the must-see artworks at MoMA was a challenging task for me. Although there are many more paintings you should see in MoMA, here are some of the MoMA highlights you shouldn’t miss during your visit.
Vincent Van Gogh: The Starry Night
One of the main reasons I wanted to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York was to see The Starry Night. It’s one of the most famous paintings made by Vincent van Gogh and one of the most popular MoMA highlights. It was created in 1889 when Van Gogh was in Saint-Remy-de-Provence. Shortly before, he started suffering from mental illness, so he signed into the asylum. Swirls, short brushstrokes, colour contrasts and anxiety, so typical for his work from that time, are clearly visible in this painting.
Kazimir Malevich: White on white
Kazimir Malevich’s White on White is one of the most famous Suprematist paintings. It revolutionised the art world and opened the doors to the abstract art. The white colour symbolises infinity here. Although he uses only white in his painting, creating warmer and colder tones makes us feel as if the central square is floating above the painting’s background.
Salvador Dali: The Persistence of Memory
MoMA is home to one of the most famous Surrealist paintings made by Salvador Dali. The renowned artist is famous for introducing the world of symbols he often used in his paintings. We can recognise many of them in The Persistence of Memory. We are still unsure about the meaning besides the melting clocks. However, Dali also includes symbols such as ants and flies in his famous artwork.
Henri Matisse: Dance (I)
One of the MoMA highlights you shouldn’t miss while visiting that famous museum is Henri Matisse’s Dance. The painting at the Museum of Modern Art is a sketch made before the final version of the same artwork that resides at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. The sizeable decorative composition shows five figures dancing. It’s one of the most important paintings in Henri Matisse’s career and modern art’s development.
Roy Lichtenstein: Drowning Girl
MoMA is home to one of the most famous Pop Art paintings, Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl. Playing with the comic book style, the artist is well known for his unique artworks. He was influenced by the actual comic books he was taking images from. But also by the paintings like The Great Wave off Kanagawa and some of his contemporaries.
Jasper Johns: Flag
The Flag is the painting American artist Jasper Johns is best known for. He painted the American flag on the collage made of newspaper. The flag has 48 stars because it was made in the mid-1950s before Hawaii and Alaska became the states. You can read the sections of the newspapers he used. Interestingly, he didn’t want to use any political headlines but rather used parts of adverts or unimportant articles. Perhaps, there is a real message.
Claude Monet: Water Lilies triptych
MoMA highlights include some of Claude Monet‘s most famous artworks, his Water Lilies. During his life, the famous Impressionist made around 250 compositions depicting the pond with water lilies in his garden in Giverny. At the Museum of Modern Art in New York, you can see a few of them, with the large triptych being the most monumental.
Andy Warhol: Campbell’s Soup Cans
Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans is another iconic Pop Art artwork among the MoMa highlights. It consists of 32 images displayed together. The artwork was seen as controversial when it appeared in 1962. However, Campbell’s Soup Cans soon made Andy Warhol the best-known and best-earning American artist of that time.
Piet Mondrian: Broadway Boogie-Woogie
Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie is one of the most famous abstract paintings. After moving to New York in 1940, the Dutch painter became inspired by the city and its music. By using the same colours as in his previous paintings, he took the rhythm of Boogie-Woogie and transferred it into the geometrical pattern of his paintings.
Frida Kahlo: Self-portrait with cropped hair
Although she always portrayed herself as very feminine in her self-portraits, the painting in the MoMA collection is quite different. Frida Kahlo painted it shortly after her divorce from Diego Rivera. She showed herself in an almost ceremonial haircutting. By holding scissors in her hand, we know she cut her hair. Frida also wears a man’s suit, which could belong to her former lover. Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits are always filled with symbolism and emotions, and the one displayed in MoMA is no different.
Pablo Picasso: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is one of the most popular artworks in the MoMA collection. It’s also one of the best-known paintings made by the Spanish artist. And is often considered the predecessor of the style he is best known for – Cubism. In his painting, Picasso showed five prostitutes from a brothel in Barcelona. They are not seductive as we would expect, but rather frightening. Especially two females at the right wearing African masks, which Picasso was fascinated with.
Jackson Pollock: One: Number 31, 1950
Jackson Pollock is famous for his Abstract Expressionism paintings made with dripping paint. His One: Number 31, 1950 is an excellent example of that style. In the way he applies the paint onto the canvas, the artist transforms that energy, movement and dynamics into his artwork. With this large format, you can feel it so well. Being such an iconic artwork, this painting should definitely make to your list of the MoMA highlights.
Henri Rousseau: The Dream
Same as Frida Kahlo, Henri Rousseau was a self-thought artist whose paintings became some of the most important artworks of the 20th century. In 1910, shortly before his death, this French post-Impressionist painter made around 25 artworks with a jungle theme. The one in the MoMA’s collection is the largest, representing a reclining woman enjoying the jungle view.
Tips for visiting MoMA
MoMA museum before hours tour with an art expert organised by the museum.Join a museum tour: Being a former museum guide, I always advise people to visit large museums on tour. You’ll get to see all the MoMA highlights that way, learn more about them and have plenty of time then to explore the museum on your own. Here is the
Visit the museum shop: MoMA has one of the best museum shops in New York. You’ll find it on its ground floor. However, there is also a special MoMA Design Store across the street. You can enter both of these shops without buying an entrance ticket.
With its outstanding collection, MoMA is absolutely one of the best museums of modern art in the world. Exploring some of the MoMA highlights is a must for any art lover visiting New York City.
Have you been to MoMA? What were your favourite artworks at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC? Let me know in the comments!