Researching the History and Exhibitions of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Information about the Museum’s history and exhibitions is scattered throughout various books, journals, ephemera, and electronic resources.
1. The Museum’s website (www.metmuseum.org) includes
- General information about the history of the Museum and each curatorial department (go to the About the Museum tab)
- The Press Room has news about the Museum including current press releases and a press release archive.
- Annual reports from 2003-present (previous annual reports can be found here (on the Museum’s website), and on JSTOR from 1871 until four years ago (JSTOR’s coverage of the Museum’s Annual Reports lags by four years).
2. Important published works in Watson Library (www.libmma.org/portal) and in other libraries.
There are several books that chronicle the history of the Museum. There are copies of each of these near the Reference collections in Watson and Nolen libraries, and in the Watson and Nolen library stacks.
- Howe, Winifred E., A history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; with a chapter on the early institutions of art in New York: N610 .H75 1946 MMA General and also available full text online from the link in the WATSONLINE record for this item.
This important history includes detailed information about the Museum’s architecture, donors, collections and directors.
- Tomkins, Calvin, Merchants and masterpieces : the story of the Metropolitan Museum of Art : N610 .T65 1989 MMA General
While in WATSONLINE, you can find citations to publications by and about Museum directors by searching the name by keyword. Biographical information about Museum directors can be found in standard biographical references.
In the Research section of the library’s portal, you will find “canned” searches for an up-to-date list of Met-related publications. The link for a search on collection catalogs will result in a chronological list of Met collection catalogs.
This resource includes the complete and searchable Grove Dictionary of Art Online and Benezit’s Dictionary of Artists (as well as several other standard art reference resources). By searching “Metropolitan Museum of Art” in Oxford, you will get a brief history of the Museum. Additionally, you will get a bibliography for further reading about the Met.
A large selection of newspaper clippings, articles, and other ephemeral material related to the Museum’s history is available on microfilm in Watson Library. These clippings and scrapbooks document the Museum’s collections, exhibitions, archaeological excavations and expeditions, education activities, programs, publications, staff and trustees.
The contents of the collection are somewhat random, having come to the library from clipping agencies and other Museum departments.
To locate specific information, consult the finding aid. The best way to search for information in the finding aid (once you’ve clicked the link “Finding Aid” and opened it) is to use Ctrl-F on your keyboard and enter keywords. For example, search “de Montebello” and then click through to see the box and folder numbers that have information about our former director. You can then request that box and folder number on microfilm from the Circulation Desk at Watson Library.
5. Information on donors, trustees, directors
There are several resources that will aid you in finding information about people associated with the Museum.
- American National Biography Online (ANB)
- This resource features nearly 18,000 biographies, thousands of illustrations, and the ability to search by name, occupation, birthplace, life dates, and contributor. Occasionally, recently deceased individuals who are considered noteworthy will be added in quarterly updates, though most individuals are included within two to four years of their death.
- For example, a search on Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, a significant donor to the Museum, will result in a fairly extensive bio that will verify the spelling of her name, birth and death dates, occupation and city of residence. It also includes a bibliography.
- Marquis Who’s Who on the Web
- Provides access to over 1.3 million biographies. This online resource also gives you access to Who’s Who in American Art, and Who’s Who in American History.
- For more information on using Marquis, see our class guide.
- New York Times Archive
- Here you will find obituaries and other related articles about people associated with the Museum.
- Keep in mind that if a person is particularly well-known, you should not limit your search to just obituaries as their death may have been printed as a full article. Again, a search on Catharine Lorillard Wolfe is a good example of finding information about her philanthropy and art patronage. If you have already checked a biographical resource like Marquis Who’s Who, you can refine your search with the year of death. For Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, it would be 1887. You’ll see by searching between 1/1/1887 and 12/31/1887 for “catharine lorillard wolfe” gives us 9 results. The first of which is the article announcing her death on April 4th. Additionally, there are articles about her collection of paintings being willed to the Museum.
1. For a comprehensive account of the history of the Museum’s architecture, read Morrison Heckscher’s article in the MMA Bulletin from the Summer of 1995. It is available full text here from JSTOR. There are additional articles in the Bulletin that discuss various architectural elements of the Museum.
2. There is a volume of Museum building plans from 1932 in the Watson Library Reference collection. Click here for the WATSONLINE record.
Note: The Archives Department in the Museum is a resource for researchers who have exhausted other avenues of inquiry. Some of the Archives’ collections are not yet indexed or listed in WATSONLINE. The Archives serve primarily as a legal archive rather than a repository for all documents relating to the Museum’s history. Contact information: email firstname.lastname@example.org with a very specific description of your research question and the purpose of your research.
The Digital Media department maintains a collection of images of the Museum, donors and historic events obtained from the Archives department. You can contact them directly with your image request by emailing email@example.com or calling
Flickr is an online tool that allows users to share photos. It is also a source for photos of the Museum. You do not need to create an account to search the site. Simply type in “metropolitan museum of art” facade and you will find many photos taken by Museum visitors, some of which have detailed views of the building’s architecture.
Resources for finding out if an exhibition occurred and when, if the exhibition had a catalog, how to find press reviews and more detailed information.
1. Did it happen, and when?
To find out if an exhibition occurred at the MMA, go to the Chronological List (from the library portal page, in the left hand margin, labeled Museum Exhibitions, 1870- [present]. The list is searchable (Ctrl + F) and specific dates are given for each exhibition.
2. Is there an exhibition catalog?
The first step is to search WATSONLINE for the exhibition catalog, noting that not all exhibitions are documented by published catalogs.
There are several ways to check WATSONLINE for a catalog. If you know the year of the exhibition, you can quickly browse a list of exhibition related Museum publications by clicking here or by clicking on the Research link from the library’s portal. This list is automatically sorted by year. Refine this list by clicking Modify Search and adding in specific keywords from the exhibition title. Fill in the second box in the Modify Search form with your keywords, for example Courbet. Here we see 9 results sorted by year. If we wanted the catalog from the show in 2008, it would be relatively easy to identify it from the list, along with other related material such as the press kit.
Or, search WATSONLINE by entering a keyword search with a significant word from the exhibition title along with the word “metropolitan.”
3. Digitized MMA exhibition catalogs
Many MMA publications, including some exhibition catalogs, have been digitized and are available full text, in searchable form in whole or in part.
WATSONLINE entries provide links to fully digitized publications. The MetPublications resource on the Museum’s website (mouse over the Research tab and click on MetPublications) provides complete full text or partial full text access to publications since 1964 (not including the Bulletin and Journal).
You can search The New York Times archive for reviews of exhibitions by typing in “metropolitan musem of art” and keywords from the title of the exhibiton. For example, to find the NY Times review of Tom Campbell’s first tapestry exhibition from 2002, Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence, you can search the keywords “metropolitan museum of art” and “tapestry in the renaissance”. The first result is the review.
To receive automatic email delivery of links to reviews of exhibitions from all news sources, you can set up a Google Alert for the term “metropolitan museum of art”. You can customize the frequency and source of your alerts (just from news sources or from all over the web). The alert will pick up any news story, including reviews, with your keywords and email you links to the full-text of the content.
Exhibition conception and planning, Correspondence, Installation photographs
It is best to contact the department directly for information of this nature after you have consulted the exhibition catalog. Note that there might be installation photographs included in the press clippings.
ASK A LIBRARIAN
If you need help finding information about the Museum’s history, events, exhibitions, collections, etc., please feel free to ask a Reference Librarian for assistance.
For assistance with questions about Museum history, exhibitions or objects, please email the Reference Desk at Watson Library at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last updated by LS, 8/2013