Acquisitions News

‘A Transformative Acquisition’: MoMA Acquires More Than 300 Early 20th-Century European Avant-Garde Works on Paper From Merrill C. Berman Collection

John Heartfield, 5 Fingers Has The Hand (5 Finger hat die Hand), 1928, lithograph on paper.


The Museum of Modern Art in New York has acquired 324 pieces from the collection of the Rye, New York–based investor and venture capitalist Merrill C. Berman, which is rich in works on paper by members of 20th-century European movements, like Dada, Constructivism, the Bauhaus, and de Stijl.

“It adds a missing chapter to something which is very dear to our hearts, because the avant-garde and its story have been part of the narrative that MoMA has been telling over the course of its existence,” Christophe Cherix, the museum’s chief curator of drawings and prints, said in an interview this morning. He called the purchase “a transformative acquisition.”

Nearly a third of the works—96 in total—were made by women. “That is absolutely extraordinary if you think of the early 20th,” Cherix said. “Those artists were there, but never really fully recognized.” Among those artists are Elena Semenova, Fré Cohen, Vavara Stepanova, Lyubov Popova, and Maria Bri-Bein, who is entering the collection for the first time. Noting that women were “overlooked in the creations of all the great collections of 20th-century art,” the curator said that the Berman Collection “is adding a piece that was missing in our holdings.”

The purchase features a number of photomontages and collages, by such artists as Hannah Höch, John Heartfield, and Raoul Hausmann, whose pivotal photomontages MoMA did not have an example of until now. “You look at your computer today, and you see images made by cut and paste by appropriation. That really started then,” Cherix said, describing these works, adding that they “say something about the 20th century, which will be, as the years go on, more and more important.”

Lyubov Popova, The Magnanimous Cuckold: Actor no. 7 (Prozodezhda aktera N.7), 1921. Gouache, cut-and-pasted papers, and ink on paper.


For veteran MoMA visitors, some of the works in the acquisition may be familiar, having appeared in shows over the past few decades about Aleksandr Rodchenko and the Bauhaus school, as well as the spellbinding 2012 exhibition “Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art.” The timing of the acquisition is also meaningful, Cherix said, because “we’re expanding the galleries and revisiting not only the way we want to show the collection but also what we want to say with those displays. Having this material with us will be a great asset.”

While many of the artists represented in the Berman Collection are at the core of 20th-century art, some are lesser-seen in U.S., particularly those from Central and Eastern Europe, like the Polish artist Henryk Berlewi of Poland; Lajos Kassák, who worked in Budapest and Vienna; and Ladislav Sutnaz, a Czech designer. And the materials are similarly diverse, running the gamut from drawings and collages to sketches for theater productions, commercial design, journals, propaganda, and maquettes.

MoMA is planning to do a show devoted to the Berman Collection, which will be accompanied by a catalogue, though that exhibition is still a few years off. “The collection just arrived,” Cherix said, excitedly, “so we have a little bit of work to do!”

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