Is “Contemporary Voices” the Ishtar of museum shows? Just as with that Hollywood debacle, this sample of work from the collection of financial behemoth UBS proves that sometimes marquee stars + big budget = dud. Like a preview suckering you in with a film’s best scene, UBS’s ubiquitous ad campaign featured The End, a grisaille painting of two distressed movie frames by the always sharp Ed Ruscha. More typical of the exhibit is Philip Guston’s In the Studio, an enervated painting devoid of the subtleties that give the clumsy alter egos of his late cartoon paintings their pathos.
Diversifying their portfolio with a tepid trio by Anselm Kiefer—a bland watercolor, a leaden collage, and an incoherent canvas—the brokers, perhaps counting pennies, neglected to invest in any of his powerful paintings depicting Nazi architecture. The passionate painter Susan Rothenberg is represented by narrow, unwieldy panels remaindered from niches in PaineWebber’s corporate dining room. Masters from Joseph Beuys to Terry Winters contribute works that are blue-chip in the ledger and bloodless on the wall.
But no worries. At the new MOMA multiplex, if you don’t like this show, there’s a terrific one, featuring many of the same big names, only an escalator away.