MoMa: Must-See Works at New York’s Museum of Modern Art

Monet's "Water Lillies," MoMa
Monet’s “Water Lillies” at MoMa. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

New York’s Museum of Modern Art (aka MoMa) houses one of the world’s finest collections of modern art. In addition to its renowned permanent collection, MoMa presents special exhibitions (that are often among the hottest tickets in town), and special events. With six floors of galleries showcasing thousands of artworks, it can be challenging to navigate the large museum and find key works. But fear not: we’ve compiled a list of some of MoMa’s most significant artworks.

Here are our picks for the must-see works at MoMa.

Note: Head straight up to the 5th floor and progress through the galleries in numerical order. This allows you to move chronologically through the development of modern art.

Fifth Floor

Cezanne: The Bather, MoMa
Cezanne’s “The Bather” Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Paul Cezanne – The Bather: Gallery 1 – One of Cezanne’s most evocative figure paintings, the introspective young male seems to be stepping out of the bare landscape. The work combines his interest in artistic tradition and modernity. In same gallery, look for the artist’s Self-portrait in a Straw Hat.

 

Paul Gauguin – The Seed of the Areoi: Gallery 1 – one of Gauguin’s finest paintings from his excursion to Tahiti, depicting a primitive paradise free of the corruption of modern Europe. As you’ll see, his use of bright, flat colors influenced artists to follow.

Van Gogh, Starry Night, MoMa
Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” Photo” Jeff Dobbins

Vincent Van Gogh – The Starry Night: Gallery 1 – undoubtedly one of the stars of the museum’s collection. It depicts a turbulent sky over Saint Remy, where Van Gogh was confined to a mental asylum during his final days. The roiling energy of the sky, intense color and exploding stars are thought to evoke Van Gogh’s emotional state. He once said, “Looking at the stars always make me dream.”

Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, MoMa
Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Pablo Picasso – Les Demoiselles d’Avignon: Gallery 2 – this work, a stark break from traditional composition and perspective, features five naked prostitutes in a brothel. The women are composed of flat, splintered planes with faces inspired by Spanish sculpture and African masks. Picasso described this as his “first exorcism painting.” It is also the first of many Picasso works in the collection, which allows one to follow the artist’s development through diverse periods, styles and media.

Marc Chagall – I and the Village: Gallery 3 – this painting evokes Chagall’s boyhood Russian village, where peasants and animals lived in harmony. The flowering sprig at the center symbolizes the tree of life and the work’s angles and lines are inspired by Cubism.

Matisse "Dance (I)," MoMa
Matisse’s”Dance (I),” MoMa Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Henri Matisse – Dance (I): Gallery 6 – Matisse said, dance means “life and rhythm,” and he captures joy and energy in this work presenting mythical dancers in a timeless landscape. This is a compositional study for his Dance (II), which hangs in the Hermitage Museum.

Monet – Water Lilies: Gallery 9 – This long piece is filled with the water, lilies, light and sky of Monet’s Japanese-style pond in his garden in Giverny. Monet wanted these large-scale canvases to encompass the viewer. There is another large Water Lilies canvas on the opposite wall of the gallery.

Dali: Persistence of Memory, MoMa
Dali’s haunting “The Persistence of Memory.” Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Salvador Dali – The Persistence of Memory: Gallery 12 – Dali’s quintessential work of Surrealism, the theme is time. A bleak landscape contains melting watches, ants (symbolizing decay), and a grotesque fleshy object in the center that bears a resemblance to Dali’s own face in profile.

Andrew Wyeth – Christina’s World, Lobby – Wyeth portrays his neighbor who, stricken with polio and unable to walk, is crawling through a field to pick blueberries. Wyeth said he wanted to present “her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.” The depiction of the arid landscape and rural buildings is done with great detail.

Fourth Floor

Pollock One, Number 31, 1950, MoMa
Pollock’s “One, Number 31, 1950.” Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Jackson Pollock – One, Number 31, 1950, Gallery 16 – considered a masterpiece of the “drip” technique; this is among the largest of Pollock’s paintings. The work conveys great energy with an intricate web of tans, blues and grays lashed through black and white.

Andy Warhol – Campbell’s Soup Cans, Gallery 19 – a seminal work of Pop Art. Believing art should be for everyone, Warhol used familiar images in his works, in this case the thirty-two varieties of soup offered by Campbell’s, a staple of the American diet.

Roy Lichtenstein – Drowning Girl, Gallery 19 – Like many of Lichtenstein’s works, this piece is inspired by an image from a comic book. He has focused on the comics’ melodramatic content, and even manually painted the dots used in the printing of comics.

Lichtenstein, Drowning Girl, MoMa
Roy Lichtenstein’s “Drowning Girl.” Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Visit MoMa

The Museum of Modern Art is located at 11 West 53rd Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues.

Subway: E or M train to 53rd Street & Fifth Avenue, or B, D, or F train to 47-50 Street Rockefeller Center

Hours: MoMa is open 10:30am – 5:30pm, seven days a week (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas).

Admission: Adults $25.00, Seniors $18.00, Students $16.00, no charge for children 16 and under. Tickets can be purchased online in advance.

Note: MoMa offers free entry every Friday 4:00pm – 8:00pm. Tickets for these hours are not available in advance.

Note: MoMa is one of New York’s most popular attractions. Ticket lines can be long and galleries crowded during popular viewing times (generally mornings, weekends and holidays). The free Friday evenings are particularly crowded and chaotic. If possible, plan your visit outside these busy times for a better experience of the works and venue.

For more information about MoMa’s exhibitions, events and policies, see their website. They also offer a free mobile app with photos, text and audio segments on the collection.

Warhol Campbell's Soup Cans, MoMa
Warhol’s seminal Pop Art,”Campbell’s Soup Cans.” Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Have you explored the collection at MoMa? If so, what’s your favorite work? Tell us in the comments below.

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About the author

Fiona's an Irish travel writer who has made New York City her home for the past 10 years. While she frequently returns to Dublin, she's captivated by the vibrant food, diverse people, and rich culture of NYC. Fiona's passion for travel extends beyond NYC and her homeland—she frequently explores new destinations, documenting her adventures and sharing her lively stories.

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