What to do with the dead white men? Galleries grapple with a new ...

Ideas

What to do with the dead white men? Galleries grapple with a new world

How can an institution where people flock to gaze at masterpieces still feel ‘modern’?

Alastair Sooke

In 1939, a decade after the opening of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in rented premises on Fifth Avenue in New York, Alfred H Barr, its director, found himself in Paris, taking tea with the avant-garde American writer Gertrude Stein.

At the start of the century, Stein, along with her brother Leo, had been a pioneering collector of modernist canvases by the likes of Picasso and Matisse – so her opinion on MoMA, now universally acknowledged as the finest collection of modern art in the world, was worth listening to.

She told Barr that a museum could be either modern or a museum, but not both at the same time...

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