MoMA’s Most Famous Masterpiece Is Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night.’ So Why Does the Painting Now Have a Big

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night (1889).

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night (1889). Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

On Thursday, the Museum of Modern Art opened its doors to the press corps after a months-long closure, letting reporters see the fruits of a $400 million renovation and expansion. It was a kind gesture to the reporting class, especially considering MoMA members won’t see the redesigned digs until next week. (It opens to the public on October 21.)

Surprises abounded at the first press preview for the new MoMA, including the shock-install of Faith Ringgold’s stab-happy mural American People Series #20: Die (1967) next to Pablo Picasso‘s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).

But the most unexpected moment of the morning’s grand unveiling came when an unassuming curator left me alone in the 19th-century gallery that now houses Vincent van Gogh‘s The Starry Night (1889).

“Go ahead,” the curator said, gesturing towards the masterpiece in the corner as she left the room. I obliged, indulging in an unprecedented chill sesh with arguably the most famous painting in the world. Might as well look at the brushwork. Might never get this chance again.

CU of hair on Starry Night painting

Detail of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night (1889). Look at the branch on the left, and you’ll see a hair. Photography by Nate Freeman.

Immediately, I started to wonder how an errant strand of white hair got stuck to the most recognizable canvas on earth—and just before its grand debut in the new MoMA, no less. How did no one notice this when they were installing?

We’d like to be able to give you some kind of explanation, but alas, I sent a number of questions to the museum, along with the image showing The Hair, as it will forever be known, and asked if they were planning to take the work down and restore it before the public opening.

What I got in response was a series of auto-replies from members of the MoMA press team saying they were “working around the clock to respond to an exceptionally high volume of press requests.”

Hopefully someone is working around the clock to get that hair off Starry Night, too!




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