Reviewed February 2017
Research and Information Services Librarian, Florida State University
The MoMA Exhibition History Digital Archive is a powerful and dynamic tool for art history and museum studies scholars as well as the general public and data scientists. It provides not only an aesthetically pleasing interface, but also access to all of the metadata created. This allows for a much deeper investigation of MoMA exhibitions.
The website includes catalogues, primary documents, installation photographs, and an index of participating artists. All exhibitions from 1929 to the present are included, and new and upcoming shows will be incorporated. Additionally, the metadata is freely available on GitHub. This presents an excellent opportunity for those wishing to create data visualizations. MoMA has called for interpretations and has given this metadata to DPLA and Wikipedia to increase its findability. Data visualizations produced so far have explored the width and height of paintings, gender breakdown, and timelines of artwork production and acquisition.
The online archive itself is attractive, with a clean white background. One can filter by type of event and year, and sort results by relevance and opening and closing date. While a simple text search is available, there is no option for advanced searching or saving results. Although advanced searching capabilities may be lacking, the exhibition archive is easy to browse.
Each exhibition record has a different level of completeness, with some including photos, checklists, catalogs and press releases, while others include only the name of the exhibition. This incompleteness could impact the value of the metadata. However, as the archive is a “living document,” these missing pieces may be addressed as the site is updated. Within each exhibition record there is a section for feedback that states the record is a work in progress. Some of the newer exhibitions provide links to social media related to the exhibition, such as blogs and Instagram. This will be particularly helpful as the exhibition archive ages and researches want to study social media.
Although the site is user-friendly, its usability does suffer from the fact that this collection blends so seamlessly into the main MoMA page. Additionally, the filters and search box are only at the top of the page; as the additional exhibitions are accessed by scrolling down the page, it is easy to lose these filters. Exhibition catalogs, press releases and checklists, though digitized to high standards, are only accessible in PDF format. The text of each PDF is not included in the full-text search of the larger site, which makes for a less robust search. Within each exhibition record, one can click on the hyperlinked names of the artists involved and find more information about them, including other exhibitions in which they took part, as well as Wikipedia entries and information from the Getty. This is an excellent feature that lets the lay researcher easily move from section to section, but it has the disadvantage of being difficult to navigate backward. A researcher attempting to use the top menu to navigate back will find themselves in the main MoMA page, and there is no submenu for the MoMA Exhibition History Digital Archive. There is a button on each exhibition record’s page that allows one switch from gray text to easier-to-read, high-contrast text.
Overall, the MoMA Exhibition History Digital Archive effectively connects scholars and the general public to primary sources and gives a clear history of what has occurred in the museum, both in the galleries and behind the scenes. The site provides enough metadata and archival information to be useful for art and museum study scholars, but also has an intuitive interface that could be easily navigated by a casual art lover. Museum visitors often feel more connected to art when they are able to take a behind-the-scenes tour and find out what goes on behind closed doors. This collection does just that for anyone who may be interested, whether they can visit the museum or not.