The diamond shaped logo for the Museum of Modern Art’s massive loan show, “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture,” is a wide open eye on a sea of benday dots, the kind Lichtenstein swiped from the printing trade. That eye, once subjected to the works of 165 artists, is a twitching, blood-shot nervous wreck. The MOMALOANA cries out for Visine.
Marching through two floors of “major tendencies” chosen by Kynaston McShine, the senior curator of painting and sculpture, is a Coney Island of the mind, gone mad with the hubris of Europe, of the Neo-Express, that great, bubbling stock pot of high-decibelled gesture. McShine’s survey is Napoleonic in scope, the kind of expedition one would ex-pect National Geographic to sponsor (not AT&T). Some of it is great, some of it is good and some of it is lousy.
One of the more jaw dropping aspects of the show is the familiarity of some of the im-ages, that, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that one before’ feeling. Like Sandro Chia’s “Melancholic Encamp-ment” with the drugstore Indian and de Chirico pennants waving from the tent tops, appeared previously in Berlin in the 1982 Zeitgeist show. Come to think of it, the MOMA spectacular feeds off the previous artist choices from Documenta 7 in Kassel, Zeitgeist in Berlin, An Australian Accent at P.S. I, New Spirit of Painting in London at the Royal Academy, New Art at the Tate, the 1980 Venice Biennale, Italian Art Now at the Guggenheim, New Image Painting at the Whitney and the last two Whitney. Biennials.
Which is to say McShine was swept away by previous tenden-cies and the MOMA selection will not surprise anyone who’s visited the best of the vanguard New York galleries in the past three years, or flipped through the monthly art glossies or spent an idle hour browsing at the “Foreign” art catalogue table a Jaap Rietman’s SoHo bookstore.
One of the few tendencies he missed is Keith Haring whose absence sticks out like one of his radioactive babies. Haring suf-fers the stigma of showing in Tony Shafrazi’s gallery with the rest of the hyper-aerosol kids, and Shafrazi in his wilder days defaced -Guerniea” when it still resided at MOMA which is a capital no-no and great institu-tions are slow to forget. So you won’t see any graffiti in the show which is strange. You have to go upstairs and see Tapies. Yes, re-member the context of the young-guns survey, sprawled on the ground floor and lower level, straining under the history of the upper floor heavyweights, who look down their escalated noses from Mt. Perri-Olympus.
The other missing “tendency” is women, who are few and far between in this show (14 out of 165 ). That phenomenon is known as Mary Boone- Blinders and McShine seems to patronize the same occulist, Susan Rothenberg who has become very famous for being the token woman expressionist that everyone loves, has a high horse-powered “Pontiac” in the show. It is in a beautiful pad-dock area with a handsome Thornton Willis and a grazing Greg Amenoff landscape. The trouble is Rothenberg doesn’t paint horses anymore yet many viewers will walk away with that signature decal of the charging horse as hers. With— for the most part— only one picture exhibited per artist, work ranging from 1975 to 1984, it is hit or miss. The huge catalogue (which has yet to surface) is reputed to have 800 black and white reproductions showing the progression of the ar-tists’ work from the time their reputations were established in 1975, the diving board date of the show.
Jam packed as it is (the step-child sculpture selection suffers most cruelly, especially the supine lead figure of Antony Gormley’s, crying on the floor from the bruised mashings of viewers craning skyward for Tom Otterness’ x-rated Pillsbury dough friezes), some works manage to stop you in your tracks.
Anselm Kiefer’s monumental “Sulamith” would give goosebumps to Indiana Jones. The subterranean brick-work vault moans a melody of angst, the dancing fire at the end of this creepy runway does not seem the sort for baking bread. Kiefer’s atelier-crypt is the castor oil an-tidote for all of MOMA’s new glass skin. His vault is damp and desolate. You have no choice but to enter this abyss and face the flames.
Jean Michel Basquiat (in a previous life, wore the street tag, Samo the Art Bum) has a great self-portrait, an exhuberant black Neptune in dreadlocks, brandishing a trident against a wave tossed white sea of the city. As a kind of crudish Mondrian, Basquiat jabs the surface with Puck and Penck. This black figure has two Fauve neighbors, Helmut Middendorf’s “Hovering Red,” a red man bent like a bow across an alphabet block of buildings and Rainer Fetting’s “Self-Portrait as an Indian” with blue skin, gold boots and jock strap.
Beyond the valley of taxidermied pony skins and loin-clothed natives shouldering a war canoe, Alexis Smith’s mannered wall piece on train motifs proffers a metaphoric shard of monologue for McShine’s Neo-Olympian Art Derby. Below the collaged pro-files in Smith’s “Berlin Express,” the typefaced oracle spoke, “The trees look the same— the sky is the same— the air doesn’t smell any different, and yet, there’s something wrong. You can’t quite pin it down.”