MoMA’s current exhibit — Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night, inspired by Van Gogh’s observation, “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day” is a do not miss. I know there are purists who sniff at the work of those whose masterpieces are reproduced on coffee mugs, mouse pads and umbrellas. I say let them sniff away. More room for the rest of us to sigh in wonder as we make our way through the exhibit space, taking in Van Gogh’s spin of stars, the towers of threshed wheat glowing in the setting sun.
Think “daylight” and the sun and the splendor of a ray-drenched morning comes to mind. Think “nightlight” and what usually pops up is a little beige gizmo plugged into a bathroom outlet. And that’s why Van Gogh was the artist and we aren’t.
Van Gogh was mesmerized by the play of light and shadow brought on by the setting sun. The coming of evening was a time for spritual reflection, for reviewing the day’s events. It was the time that the images and sensations stored up during his day began flowing out in studies, sketches,and paintings each one building upon the last. I love exhibits that put an artist’s paintings into a context of artistic development enabling viewers a window into the creative process, urging onlookers to reexamine their world. The show’s curators deserve an entire set of mugs, mouse pads and umbrellas for putting together this exhibit.
Now that time has fallen back once again, sending nightfall upon us with unsettling suddeness, we might borrow a page from Van Gogh’s sketchbook. Instead of being jarred by the swiftness of the dark falling, we might take a few moments to reflect, to consider what transpired during our day. Pulling into the driveway this evening just as the sun was setting I tried to see the world in a new light, a night light. The leaves still remaining on the oak were resplendent in the fading sun, shadows deep purple across the lawn. How tragic that Van Gogh’s brilliance shown brightest at the setting of his own life.