MoMA Decoded

The Big Picture You Can’t See When You Visit MoMA

Produced by Spe Chen
--- work in progress ---


In a huge museum like The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) holds more than 100,000 artworks, what a visitor can see is only the tip of an iceberg of its collection. Precisely speaking, that is less than 1%. Have you ever wondered what the rest 99% are?

Artworks on view in museums are highly curated to immerse visitors in sensory narrative of a focused theme. Curatorial teams put a lot of thoughts into how art pieces should be staged. They cherry-pick every object into exhibits, carefully design lighting and arrange spaces, etc., to not to bombard visitors with information.

Surely you can search or browse to explore archived artworks on MoMA’s online collection catalog. Or maybe you prefer a nerdier way like me: digging into MoMA’s collections and artists datasets.

Last month MoMA held its first ever data analysis and visualization workshop and challenged participants finding insights from the event exclusive datasets. Some are now available on GitHub, a code hosting service. I was one of the participants and I’ve wrangled its datasets so you don’t have to.

Slice & Dice MoMA Collection

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Picasso Gift Western Arts


The MoMA Superstar

MoMA owns 1300 works of Picasso the multidisciplinary talent including hundreds of his illustrated books, the famous painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, sculptures and so on.

Give me a museum and I'll fill it. ---- Pablo Picasso 1881~1973

In terms of amount of the collection, Pablo Picasso gets only the fourth place. However, if we check further the museum's exhibition records (1929-1990), Picasso is actually the champion when it comes to days of exhibitions.

Picasso has been featured in 59 exhibitions and shown for almost 20,000 days. It is two-third of MoMA’s history! On the other hand, his career-long nemesis, Matisse, comes in close second in the match who has been shown in 17,000 exhibited days in 55 exhibits.

Moreover, Picasso and Matisse often co-occur in MoMA’s exhibits. That is to say, if you see Picasso’s works in one show, then you have 50% chance to see Matisse’s is there as well, and vice versa.

Want to explore MoMA exhibition history yourself? Check the interactive graph made by other awesome datathon team here.