MoMA Exhibition Seplunker

I recently worked on another site with Good, Form & Spectacle, the MoMA Exhibition Spelunker, exploring sixty years of exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

MoMA released a lot of data about their exhibitions from the museum’s opening in 1929 to 1989 and commissioned GF&S to make something from it.

Screenshot of the home page

A spelunker, according to Chambers, is “a person who explores caves as a hobby” and we aimed to explore MoMA’s raw data and make it more visible and penetrable by everyone else. It’s hard to get a decent sense of the shape of lists of data so we set off to explore.

The fundamentals of this are to make the huge amount of rows and columns of data easily browsable. So you can view the list of exhibitions in date order. You can see all the artists who have been featured or, for example, all the curators involved. Or see all the people, no matter what they’ve done. Or you can get a sense of the museum’s directors and departments over time.

Visualising the data

Such lists are much more friendly than raw data but they’re still hard to take in at a glance. We wanted to be able to get a better overview of those sixty years, and so we created various graphs to depict activity over time. These, made using D3.js, sometimes act both as sort-of sparklines and also as forms of navigation.

For example, a simple chart of the number of exhibitions per year can be clicked/tapped to jump to a particular year:

Screenshot of the exhibitions-per-year chart

Or you can compare how the number of people performing different non-artist roles has changed over time:

Screenshot of the roles charts

Or, for one of those roles, see which people performed them when. Here are the people who were curators most often, and you can see when their work overlapped:

Screenshot of the curators list

A bigger chart was designed to show MoMA’s different departments, to give a sense of when they began and also who was in charge of them. Here we can see that William S. Lieberman was director of three departments:

Screenshot of the departments chart

More media

It’s always nice when you can use raw data to fetch more related data or media.

MoMA had already done some work finding reviews of exhibitions in the New York Times, so we were able to tie that in to the existing data to show summaries of, and links to, the articles. For example, here’s a review of the first exhibition, Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh from 1929:

Screenshot of a New York Times review

MoMA’s data also included different kinds of identifiers for the people involved, which meant we could use the Wikidata ID to fetch an image for many of them. Seeing faces makes the whole thing much more alive… and makes clear how the most involved people over six decades are white men:

Screenshot of the people list

Because this was a project for MoMA we also had access to their images — brilliantly they have a large collection of photographs of the exhibitions themselves. It’s great to see artworks in place. For example, here’s an exhibition about the Bauhaus in 1938-9:

Screenshot of the Bauhaus exhibition page

I like it when you occasionally catch sight of a person in the otherwise empty galleries.


Another nice project, making a large amount of data easy to take in and easy to explore.

This was built using Django as the back end. Read more about the project on the Good, Form & Spectacle work diary.

6 Feb 2017 at Twitter

  • 03:30am: This late night, “oh the [competition] is all over, the result’s certain, phew… … … wait, what?!” thing is getting repetitive.
  • 12:28pm: Londonist have stopped their daily News Roundups (e.g. https://t.co/gKTwwSgGmh). Anyone know of an RSS-friendly replacement? It was handy.

6 Feb 2017 in Writing

The Waddesdon Bequest website
About making a website for the British Museum’s Waddesdon Bequest, with Good, Form & Spectacle.

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  4. Mongo Santamaria (10)
  5. GFOTY (9)
  6. Low (6)
  7. Raye (5)
  8. Sampa The Great (5)
  9. SERPENTWITHFEET (5)
  10. Red House Painters (4)

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