Vincent van Gogh. The Starry Night, 1889.

Janna Levin on The Starry Night

A cosmologist looks at Vincent van Gogh’s masterpiece.
MoMA October 21, 2019
Janna Levin | MoMA BBC | THE WAY I SEE IT
People who observe the world, whether they are artists or scientists, are always on the cusp of what they see and then what is internal.
Janna Levin

As part of our new MoMA/BBC radio series The Way I See It astrophysicist Janna Levin joins us to share her thoughts on Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Stargazing in the galleries with Levin is a treat. A professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University, she spends her time thinking about black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of spacetime. Among her several books, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs focuses on scientists’ efforts to record the sounds of space. But for Levin, art galleries are as familiar as galaxies; she has written about the arts, and is the director of science at Pioneer Works, an experimental interdisciplinary artspace in Brooklyn. Find the complete radio program hosted by art critic and broadcaster Alastair Sooke on BBC Sounds or wherever you get your podcasts.

Janna Levin
Janna Levin

In this episode of The Way I See It, Janna Levin brings her celestial expertise to Vincent van Gogh’s star-filled vision, in conversation with senior curator of Drawing and Prints Jodi Hauptman. Levin helps us see how certain features of the night sky, including “turbulent air,” the light from a star, and the planet Venus, are rendered visible by Van Gogh’s brush. She also points out that her approach is not so different from Van Gogh’s: “People who observe the world, whether they are artists or scientists, are always on the cusp of what they see and then what is internal.”

This is the first of many conversations about art. We have joined with the BBC to create The Way I See It, a 30-episode radio and podcast series offering fresh perspectives on artworks in our new galleries. Thirty extraordinary creative thinkers choose a work that they love and share their way of seeing art and our world. Find the first six episodes of The Way I See It on BBC Sounds or wherever you get your podcasts. A new episode will air each weekday this and next week. The second half of the series continues on Monday, December 2.