April 14, 2010  |  Behind the Scenes
MoMA Offsite: Where Did It Go?

Vincent van Gogh. The Starry Night. 1889

In this column I have often discussed the efforts made by the Department of Painting and Sculpture to circulate works in our collection galleries as frequently as we can manage, thereby showing the broadest possible range of our extensive holdings. All of our works are historically significant in their own way; still, we do recognize that there are dedicated audiences for certain landmark acquisitions made by the Museum, and so there are a few works that remain on view indefinitely. Les Demoiselles D’Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso, The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh, and Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory (1931) certainly all fall into this category.

But MoMA is dedicated to extending our collection to the world, and sometimes even The Starry Night must travel! In 2008 the painting was among the jewels of the exhibition Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night. It was then missing from our walls from February to June 2009, when the exhibition went to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the co-organizing venue for the show. We made every effort to publicize its absence with alerts on the website and signage in the galleries, and kept guards, lecturers, volunteers, and Visitor Services staff well informed of its return date.

The Starry Night is an extreme case, but, that said, we do field questions every day about the current location of innumerable different works. It is impossible to predict what someone may be longing to see on their visit. Nonetheless, I have attempted to soothsay your desires, so what follows is something of a cheat sheet on the whereabouts of some commonly requested works:

I’ll begin by returning to Vincent van Gogh. The Starry Night is indeed on view, but its perennial partner, The Olive Trees (1889), is not. That canvas is included in The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters, an exhibition on view through April 18 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1889), the third and final painting by van Gogh in our collection, is currently on view.

Proceeding deeper into the fifth-floor galleries, several iconic Surrealist images have been lent to outside institutions. My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (Family Tree) (1936) by Frida Kahlo just came down yesterday in preparation for a retrospective exhibition for the artist that opens at the end of this month at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. René Magritte’s The Menaced Assassin (1927) and The Empire of Light, II (1950) were also recently removed. The former is part of a fascinating exhibition at the Museé D’Orsay in Paris called Crime and Punishment which surveys some 200 years of themes of criminality in art. It runs through the month of June. The latter is in Mexico City at the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, where a monographic show of the artist’s work titled The Invisible World of René Magritte (named for the eponymous painting of 1954) is on view through July 11.

If intercontinental travel is not your near future, you need only make your way uptown to the Neue Galerie to see Otto Dix’s Dr. Mayer-Hermann (1926)  which joins more than one hundred other works to form the German artist’s first-ever solo museum exhibition to be mounted in North America. Seen en masse, the often macabre works are ever more stirring and transfixing. You can see them together through August 30.

Edward Ruscha. OOF. 1962 (reworked 1963)

Visitors are encouraged to quiz the website before coming to MoMA, because invariably questions about location remain. But that’s due in no small part to the fact that the number of works—from the Department of Painting and Sculpture and all others—moving through storage, shipment, galleries, and conservation is dizzying, not to mention the rapidity with which these changes can occur. It’s enough to make a person exclaim “Oof!” (Ed Ruscha’s painting OOF (1962), by the way, a usual Pop gallery fixture, remains off view as Ed Ruscha: Fifty Years of Painting continues its tour through Europe. After closing at its current venue, Haus der Kunst, Munich, in May, the show is off to Stockholm’s Moderna Museet for the summer. It will be back at MoMA in September.)