Another review, by Dawn-Michelle Baude, of the James Ensor show at MOMA I mentioned back in June. I love the deadpan presentation of horrors — same as in the old Anglo-American murder ballad tradition — in Ensor’s painting. Oh, yes, it is a world of greed, hatred, and delusion (as the Buddha taught), but it is colorful and interesting and even funny.
There’s a show at MOMA I’d like to see, of James Ensor’s proto-modernist paintings. I find my own aesthetic roots in the period of western art and literature that runs from the end of the 19th century through the First World War — the period of what is sometimes called High Modernism. The NY Times reviewer, Holland Cotter, calls Ensor “an aggrieved traditionalist with a pop culture itch,” words that I might apply to myself. Ensor also labored all his life away from the centers of culture where artistic reputations were made. Ensor strikes me as paradigmatic of modernism in his combining of high and low culture and his subversion of technique by technique. [A barely adequate Wikipedia entry here; Google image results here.] One loves the old modes and methods even when they are no longer viable and one is reduced to parody and pastiche.