The Museum of Modern Art, Then and Now

TIME

When the first-ever exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City opened 85 years ago, on Nov. 7, 1929, the “museum” wasn’t exactly the institution today’s visitors might expect. At the time, the city’s museum crown was indisputably in the hands of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met did not share the spotlight and the Met did not do modern. In return, artists of the time had turned up their noses at its hallowed halls; viewing it, as TIME phrased it back then, “only as a trysting place for shopgirls and their beaux, a shelter for nurse-girls and babies on rainy days, a ‘point of interest’ for out-of-towners.”

When seven collectors and patrons — including Mrs. John Davison Rockefeller Jr. and Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield — announced that September that they would open a Museum of Modern Art to bridge the gap, the museum was…

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