Gifted: Collectors and Drawings at MoMA, 1929-1983

Edward Ruscha (American, born 1937), Wax, 1967. Gunpowder and pencil on paper. 14 1/2 x 23″ (36.8 x 58.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Joan and Lester Avnet Collection. © 2011 Edward Ruscha. Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Department of Imaging Services

In 1929, art historian Paul J. Sachs presented George Grosz’s Anna Peter (1926–27) to the newly founded Museum of Modern Art, making it the first drawing to enter the collection. Now numbering over 10,000 unique works on paper, MoMA’s drawings collection is one of the most comprehensive and respected in the world, shaped in no small part by the forethought and taste of dedicated individuals over the course of its history. As much as the now legendary curatorial staff, these collectors helped shape MoMA’s holdings through historic gifts of works of art.

This exhibition examines key gifts from donors whose connections with MoMA helped shape the institution from its earliest days. Lillie P. Bliss and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, founders of MoMA, gave numerous masterworks to the new museum, including some of its most prized drawings. In later decades bequests by influential collectors such as James Thrall Soby continued to augment the holdings of works by artists the Museum had already shown a commitment to, while other collections, like that of Joan and Lester Avnet, were formed with MoMA’s needs specifically in mind. More idiosyncratic collections, such as the bequests of artists Kay Sage Tanguy and Ruth Vollmer, reflect the life and activities of deeply engaged individuals during key moments in art history.

Gifted is a reevaluation of the drawings collection, reflecting not only the richness of MoMA’s holdings, but also the diverse forces that have shaped it and the corresponding history it represents. Works by a wide range of artists from varying chronological periods and movements are juxtaposed to reflect both the tastes of the individuals who presented them to the Museum, as well as changing collecting strategies and attitudes towards art history over time. Artists include Giorgio de Chirico, Charles Demuth, Paul Cezanne, Jean Dubuffet, George Grosz, Eva Hesse, Sol Lewitt, Edward Ruscha, Georges Seurat, and Yves Tanguy. The exhibition is organized by Esther Adler, Assistant Curator, Department of Drawings, The Museum of Modern Art.