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Success may not be a job in New York

March 6, 2009 |  9:15 am

Warhol Sixty-odd years ago, the late Andy Warhol left "the sticks" (i.e. Pittsburgh) for Gotham City (i.e. Manhattan). The first significant gig he got as an illustrator was at Glamour magazine, doing the designs to accompany a story titled "Success is a Job in New York." For him, it was -- and the rest is art history.

Apparently, Glamour's take on success still holds. Writing in today's New York Times, art-market watcher Carol Vogel compares the Museum of Modern Art's plan to build an exhibition around its great, late-Monet painting of waterlilies with a "successful precedent" -- MoMA's recent "Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night," built around Van Gogh's signature 1889 "Starry Night," also in MoMA's collection. The show is said to have been a success because 437,000 people came to see it during its 15-week run.

I was among them, but I remember things somewhat differently.

"Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night," currently on vew in Amsterdam, ranks high among the most embarrassing shows I've seen in a major art museum. Its aim was to show that, despite the artist's having moved to the south of France to escape the bleak Parisian skies and revel in the sunshine, the darkness of night, epitomized by MoMA's own painting, was essential to his aesthetic. In reality, the show proved quite definitively that nighttime scenes were of marginal, even incidental significance to Van Gogh's remarkable output.

The great "Starry Night" emerged from the show as something of an anomaly, not a touchstone. Sometimes, it seems, failure is also a job in New York.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick in a photo published in the book "Schapiro's Heroes." Credit: Steve Schapiro