Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of John Rockefeller Jr., fell in love with Modern art quite early. Though her husband had entirely different tastes, and indeed actively disliked most Modern art, he offered his wife an allowance to pursue her different artistic interests. With those funds and some inheritance, she acquired works by many young, struggling artists.
Eventually, Abby and her friends Lilly Bliss and Mary Sullivan decided that a separate museum devoted wholly to Modern art was needed. They co-created New York City’s Museum of Modern Art late in 1929 and opened it in a small rented building. The museum moved three times into progressively larger, temporary quarters. Seeing his wife’s enthusiasm, John Rockefeller Jr. allowed her to spend what she pleased on contemporary works. In 1939 the MoMA moved into the building it occupies today.
When Abby died in 1948, her husband honored her memory with additional gifts to the Museum of Modern Art. A long string of other donors has also made benefactions to the institution. These include David Rockefeller’s $100 million gift in 2005, another $100 million from film producer David Geffen in 2016, and a $40 million unrestricted pledge from hedge-fund manager Kenneth Griffin in 2015.
Today the MoMA collection includes 150,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, photos, and other objects. It owns 22,000 films. It has expanded many times and occupies several buildings.
- Suzanne Loebl, America’s Medicis: The Rockefellers and Their Astounding Cultural Legacy (Harper, 2010)
- Museum of Modern Art, moma.org/about/history