Reviewed February 2020
Jenna Dufour, Visual Arts Librarian
University of California, Irvine
MoMA Through Time is an interactive site and discovery tool where visitors can explore the histories of MoMA and MoMA PS1 through encountering a diverse array of objects from the archives paired with contextual snippets of information. It initially served as a timely digital resource, having launched just as the museum closed its doors for its expansion project until it reopened in October 2019. It is an openly available website, without any log-in or subscription requirements, and fully viewable to anyone with an Internet connection.
A visitor to this site could easily navigate chronologically using a streamlined navigation bar at the top of the site, starting with the opening of the museum in 1929 (left), through to 2019 (right), leading up to the museum’s expansion project. Users can browse both histories simultaneously, or filter to focus on either MoMA or MoMA PS1. There are not any customization or “interaction” tools on the user’s end, but images and videos are high quality. There is also no option for running a keyword search on the site, which could be a useful tool for users with a specific information need. For learners seeking more information, all entries and objects include “See also” and “Learn More” pages, which either link to the museum’s main site for more information, or simply provide more context related to the object, artwork, or event that the user had clicked on initially.
While the language is unembellished and echoes the level of writing found on artwork labels in a typical museum setting, there is still value for both graduate students and researchers. Rather than a rigorous research tool, Moma Through Time is an excellent online reference tool for students and researchers interested in exhibition and/or museum history more generally. For the general public or average user, it is a fun site to discover unique moments of the museum’s history with beautiful visual and audio-visual content.
Overall, MoMA Through Time is a thoughtfully curated history that brings to life so many photographs, videos and time-lapses, audio recordings, and textual resources that might otherwise remain dormant and undiscovered in their archival boxes, save for the occasional researcher and devoted archivist. While the initial narrative is a descriptive approach focusing on all the “firsts,” such as the first American artwork in the collection (Edward Hopper’s House by the Railroad, 1930), as users scroll or browse through the decades, more interesting facts about the museum’s history will unfold, such as the fire of 1958 or the introduction in 1972 of TouchTours (tours in which visitors are blind or have low vision were able to experience sculpture through touch while guided by trained staff, the first instance of which was playfully called “Please Touch The Art”).
A final thought: MoMA Through Time (and similar digital projects) might also serve as a useful teaching tool in classes where students learn about and encounter for the first time some of the ethical implications around archives and the notion of the archival records—whose voices are included, and whose are not? Who gets written into these histories and whose work is documented, and whose isn’t?