There is a dizzying array of modern masterpieces in MoMA but here is a list of 5 most important works you absolutely must lay your eyes upon before you step out.
Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, 1907
This must-see work of art is the critical turning point in the history of modern art. 5 nude women, their features broken down into angular facets, their faces shrouded by primitivistic masks, stare down at the viewer. This is arguably a seminal work in the development of the Cubist aesthetic Pablo Picasso is famed for. This work of art, inspired by ritual objects from African and Iberian culture, marks the abandonment of the unbroken lineage of traditional perspective inherited from Western art. Furthermore, set in a brothel, these menacing women frighten the viewer, challenging the convention of the sensuous academic nude that viewers typically yield pleasure from beholding.
Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night, 1889
This spellbinding visage of a swirling night sky was inspired by the view from the window of Vincent Van Gogh’g asylum in Saint-Remy, France. In the rural South of France, he sought a reprieve from the horrors of urban modernity. These dynamic arabesques of interspersed yellow and blue strokes evoke a sense of gesture and movement, producing a striking depiction of a picturesque village tucked under the glowing night sky. In this stunning work, the faktura of the painting takes center stage and the vibrant colors don’t merely mimic reality, they further serve to convey heartfelt emotions, sentiment and immediate sensation.
Salvador Dali, Persistence of Memory, 1931
This unusually compact work of Surrealist art features a disturbing dreamscape populated by limp clocks splayed across an inexplicable landscape that includes a fleshy structure marked by a closed eye. A product of Salvador Dali’s “paranoiac critical method”, the translation of his dreams into visual production, this painting divorces itself from reality, yet appears reminiscent of the distant cliffs of his Catalonian homeland. Within the diegesis of the painting, time is rendered fluid and eerie suggestions of death and decay can be drawn from the ants devouring the pocket watch. Here, Dali treads the thin line between virtuosic genius and psychosis.
Andy Warhol, Campbell Soup Cans, 1962
Lining the walls of MoMA are 32 silkscreen printed Campbell soup cans, each corresponding to the 32 flavors in production when Andy Warhol, the father of Pop Art, conceptualized this masterpiece. These iconic soup cans, drawn from the banal, are Warhol’s bold introduction of the everyday object into the esoteric and exclusionary vocabulary of fine arts. Appropriated shamelessly from consumer culture of the epoch, the canvases are neatly organized row by row, emulating the display of products on a grocery store shelf, highlighting the blurring intersection between commerce and art.
Henri Rousseau, The Dream, 1910
Henri Rousseau’s The Dream recalls a whimsy tropical paradise, complete with a buxom female nude lounging on a velvet chaise sofa. Steeped in exoticism, it represents Rousseau’s primitive longing for a world beyond the confines of Paris, which he never physically left. Instead, it was actually inspired by his visits to the vibrant Museum of Natural History in Paris. Described by the artist as a Parisian woman’s dream of being serenaded in a jungle, this painting serves as an important precursor to the masterpieces of surrealism, which drew upon the raw material of dreams to weave together elaborate visual fantasies.