The Anxiety of Influence

MOMA does its reputation—and utopian wealth of material—a grave disservice. Again.

Cindy Sherman's Untitled #216, reduced to a useless bystander
photo: Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman's Untitled #216, reduced to a useless bystander

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"What Is Painting? Contemporary Art from the Collection"
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
Through September 17

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Obviously, with museums, as with bats and gloves, one size does not fit all. Tate has every reason to reject historical style—it simply does not own the goods. MOMA, however, is soaking in them. Which brings us to what's really, terminally wrong with a show like "What Is Painting?" Not just a capitulation to ill-fitting curatorial ideas, this exhibition proves yet another instance in which the museum refuses to elucidate why contemporary art matters in the 21st century, routinely sidestepping its authority and influence in favor of lobbing repeated softballs at a mostly stupefied public (both the general and specialized kind). With "What Is Painting?", MOMA once again crowds the plate and desperately swings for the fences in what should have been an ambitious, age-defining, reputation-building exhibition. Then it chokes.

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