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Picasso: Mosqueteros--Gagosian Gallery

Younger Than Jesus--New Museum

The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984--Metropolitan Museum of Art

Compass in Hand--Museum of Modern Art

The exhibition of Picasso's late work at the Gagosian Gallery this spring was a phenomenon. Day after day, Gagosian's huge space on West 21st Street attracted a remarkably heterogeneous public, a mix of artists, art students, Brooklyn hipsters, well-heeled professionals, and European and Asian tourists, gathered together in a way I do not recall seeing before, certainly not in Chelsea. People did not just come and look. They stayed and talked about the quickening, raucous power of the paintings and prints that Picasso was making in his late eighties and early nineties. Anything by Picasso is of course a draw, and it helped that John Richardson had organized the exhibition. He knew Picasso in his later years, and the Gagosian show, while it surely had its commercial motivations, was given an intellectual lift by Richardson, whose magnificent biography of Picasso, of which three volumes have appeared, is written in a prose as elegant, easy, and exact as any being produced today.

By mounting "Picasso: Mosqueteros" in a Chelsea location rather than in one of its spaces on Madison Avenue, the Gagosian Gallery meant to bring Picasso into the present--to argue that his late work has a place in the city's premier neighborhood for the exhibition and the sale of contemporary art. I think they were right; and much of what a gallerygoer saw this spring in the way of contemporary art was set in a dramatic dialogue with "Mosqueteros." At a time when many artists are cultivating a slacker style, and when gallerygoers, perhaps in response, are acting as if being blase equals being in the know, it was amazing to realize how desperately art mattered to this very old Spaniard. For Picasso, artistic tradition was so expansive and so strong that it could contain anything--a raging libido, an obsessive fear of death.

The human figure had always been Picasso's essential subject. In the years leading up to his death in 1973 he seemed to be reviewing a lifetime's experiences with the figure, along with the entirety of the Western tradition. That helps to explain the preponderance in this work of men in seventeenth-century dress--the dress of the age of Rembrandt and Velazquez, two of the essential masters for Picasso. The mosqueteros, Richardson writes, began as "a troop of Rembrandtian militia men in full regalia." In Spain, in the Golden Age, the word also referred to "the noisy groundlings in the corrales," a heterogeneous gathering of hangers-on whom Richardson sees as recapitulated in Picasso's etchings and related to the theatrical folk of the Rose Period, though "they have shed the rosewater taint of Symbolism."

In Picasso's late etchings, the narrative encounters that had engaged him throughout his life are recapitulated, with striking confrontations between man and woman, young and old, artist and model, lover and beloved. And in the paintings, many of which are as bold as playing cards, the figures are frequently picked off one by one, outlined and summarized with powerful arabesques. These late works are not all successes. Especially among the paintings, there are quite a few that feel unfinished, merely dashed off. Still, it is not easy to dismiss even the weakest among them, as Picasso's greatest successes often strike a viewer as swiftly executed. Everywhere you are aware of Picasso's intense engagement with the act of painting. You feel it in the insistence with which his drawing always enriches the essential rectangle of the canvas, and in the power of his peculiarly dissonant color combinations.

The late paintings, with their seignorial indifference to what might be called the proprieties of painting, are a volcano erupting at the very core of modern art. This volcanic power, contrary to what has been said about the unprecedented nature of the Gagosian show, has been recognized, at least by some observers, since the beginning. It is true that there have been strong voices marshaled against the later Picasso, beginning with Clement Greenberg, who in 1966 stated that on the basis of what Picasso had done in the previous two decades he could no longer be regarded as a "major" or "advanced" artist. Eight years later, however, Andre Malraux published a great book about the artist's final phase, La Tete d'obsidienne, which was published in English as Picasso's Mask. In 1981, Picasso's late work was included in an important survey show called "A New Spirit in Painting" at the Royal Academy in London, and there were memorable exhibitions of late Picasso in New York as early as 1981 and 1984. But perhaps it has taken until now, when all the theories of the avant-garde have turned out to amount to a hill of beans, for Picasso's perfervid antitheoretical avant-gardism to strike New York with its full tidal force.

It is this fanaticism that is missing in contemporary art right now, this feeling that art can matter this much. We are in the grip of an apathy so profound that it does not lift even when there are worthy things to see in the galleries, as has certainly been the case in the last few months. I was held at the Gladstone Gallery by Andrew Lord's clay and plaster sculptures, which when taken together suggest a dream landscape dotted with crumbling monuments and romantic towers. Gregory Crane, in his drawings at Cheryl Pelavin, spins quirky pastoral visions through the fantastical elaboration of a Brooklyn backyard garden and a Midwestern farm. Andrew Raftery's engravings of the interior of a house, at Mary Ryan, are executed in an academic technique so scrupulously impersonal that it becomes a personal statement. Temma Bell, at the Bowery Gallery, had her most confident show in years, her impressions of life in the Catskills rendered with exactitude and ease. At Elizabeth Harris, Thornton Willis struck out in a new direction, abandoning the triangular forms that have preoccupied him for many years in favor of rectilinear structures that suggest a painterly salute to Mondrian's New York City compositions. Robert Taplin, in a show of sculpture groups in diorama-style settings at Winston Wachter, invented some striking domestic allegories. And Lennart Anderson, at Leigh Morse, exhibited figures and still lifes in dark, rich, coppery colors that achieve a fierce yet muffled power.

This catalogue of some of the most significant exhibitions by contemporary artists does not even begin to describe the season's attractions. And yet a gallerygoer could feel something wanting--the thrilling power of artists to create force fields, to set off reverberations that stir passion, polemic, debate. I do not think the artists are to blame for this muddled state of affairs. The trouble begins with a widespread skepticism about the meaning or the value of art, a skepticism that can plague even those who want to feel otherwise. There seems little willingness to throw down the gauntlet, to go out on a limb, to argue ferociously because urgent and significant matters are at stake. This lack of excitement, I mean of the primary kind, has been variously described as postmodern, post-historical, or post-ideological, the idea being that we have gone beyond the old foolish strife, so that art can now simply be accepted as anything that anybody wants it to be.

But a theory of art that is grounded in the assumption that art can do without ardor is dangerous for art, and therefore for us. Art is by its very nature a form of emphasis and extremism. Artistic truth is an exaggeration, and a distortion of ordinary truth. This is something that Picasso teaches us, time and again. The artist takes experiences and apprehensions and enlarges them, extends them. Such an activity cannot be defined negatively, at least not for very long. No art worth considering can ever really be understood as post-this or post-that--as a rejection of classicism or of modernism or, for that matter, of Dadaism. Whatever its historical debts and struggles, art makes its claims in the present--as an argument for the value of immediate experience, and as a vindication of it.

Nowhere in recent months have the fascinations and the failures of this post-everything mentality been on display more clearly than at the New Museum, which was host to "Younger Than Jesus," a gathering of work by fifty artists born after 1976 that is billed as the first installment of a triennial called "The Generational." The New Museum, in its spanking new home on the Bowery, has caught the fancy of a young and attractive crowd, and from the moment you walk into the elevator, with its mirror-polished panels that are perfect for seeing and being seen, you know that this is the place to be. I found things to like at "Younger Than Jesus," where the work on display reflects a good deal of ingenuity. But after a while this stuff has a way of feeling a little too ingenious for its own good. Some of the most interesting artists in "Younger Than Jesus" are theorists and esotericists and historians of art, which is not the same thing as being artists. Visitors are encouraged to indulge an interest in experimental film, in foreign cultures, in the human body. The museumgoer's mind is led in this direction and that.

There is something for everybody at "Younger Than Jesus." I was exercised, as many people have been, by Cyprien Gaillard's video Desniansky Raion, with its gritty melancholy footage of dramatically designed public housing in Belgrade, a battle between members of two underground fight clubs in St. Petersburg, and housing projects in France and the Desniansky Raion district outside Kiev. I was amused by Haris Epaminonda's collages, with their cut-and-paste evocations of the Mediterranean world, all classical experience distilled in a postcard of an ancient statue. Emre Huner's Panoptikon, a nightmarish fantasy universe presented in the form of a digital animation, falls somewhere between folk art and kitsch, the horrors gift-wrapped, like brightly packaged goods seen in a grocery store in a country you are visiting for the first time. Anna Molska's video Tanagram, with two practically naked men in what are described as modern versions of gladiator costumes pushing around gigantic geometric shapes, suggests an update on the coolly erotic performances that Oskar Schlemmer mounted at the Bauhaus. And it is certainly hard to ignore Chu Yun's piece, which consists of what is referred to as a "female participant" who has been given a sleeping pill and left to lie unconscious on a bed in the middle of the gallery, as if Madame Tussaud's waxworks were on the verge of coming to life.

The works in "Younger Than Jesus" grab you, but they make it all too easy for you to let go. These artists tend to make their appeal on the basis of their singularity, their novelty, their oddity. Each piece is a concept engineered to hold its own in an environment in which many other concepts are competing for a museumgoer's attention. It was of course Duchamp, nearly a century ago, who gave artists permission to do anything they please in a gallery--but Duchamp was a man with a developed sense of the power of painting and sculpture, traditions with enormous force fields to which he opposed his own. "Younger Than Jesus" could be said to celebrate marginality, eccentricity, the pleasures of doing your own thing. After which the marketing begins.

Bruce Nauman, the old master of the post-everything mentality and the artist who is representing the United States at this summer's Venice Biennale, may have a few years on Jesus, but for the youngsters at the New Museum he is the savior--the man who first proved that an artist need not have any particular artisanal orientation. He has a force field for any occasion, and when his force fields lack force the critics announce that they are in the presence of a new source of power. Nauman's earliest and best work--videos and holograms in which the artist plays a handsome young bohemian clown--was done in the late 1960s. I have not seen Days/Giorni, the work he did for Venice, but it is invariably described as consisting of two rows of speakers out of which come the voices of people intoning the days of the week. Nauman explained to a reporter how the project came to be: "I was having a hard time working, but still I would go to the studio every day. Day after day I kept thinking, what am I going to do, it's Monday, it's Tuesday, and then I thought: okay, I'll do something about the days of the week." I cannot imagine a better illustration of what happens when an artist has completely rejected the idea of a traditional artistic vocation. Nauman's big idea is that he has run out of ideas. His subject is the search for a subject, which is the moldiest of avant-garde cliches, and therefore perfect for this moment when the powers that be like nothing better than recycled avant-garde cliches.

How we ended up here is the subject of "The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, although for Douglas Eklund, who organized the show, this is by no means a cautionary tale. Eklund's title derives from a small group show called "Pictures" that was mounted in 1977 at Artists Space, a widely respected alternative exhibition venue in Manhattan. In his catalogue, Eklund lingers over the bildungsroman aspect of his story of young artists from art schools around the country who were beginning to make it in New York in the 1970s and 1980s, and he manages to give a swaggering storyteller's aspect to what might otherwise seem little more than another show tracking art-world trends. I doubt that Eklund's exhibition would have been mounted at the Metropolitan if it did not include work by such art-world heavy hitters as Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, and David Salle. That none of them was included in the original Artists Space show, which had only five participants, is an inconvenient fact that did not keep Eklund from organizing an exhibition that includes nearly thirty artists (and excludes one of the original "Pictures" people, Philip Smith).

Eklund's story is about the beginnings of what is now known as appropriation--the act of lifting images more or less wholesale from already existing works, whether high art or pop culture, and reframing them within one's own work. This is very different from the way painters and sculptors have for centuries quoted from the work of earlier artists, which involved an emotional engagement with the inner life of a previous achievement, in the sense that Michelangelo engaged with Masaccio, or Picasso with Velazquez. Appropriation is a way of dehumanizing images, and its rise happened to parallel that of October, the magazine that dehumanized the history of art. The catalogue for the original Artists Space show contained an essay by Douglas Crimp, who would soon become a key figure at October magazine, where in the 1980s theoretical models, often derived from semiotics or linguistics or the social sciences, were marshaled as part of a concerted assault on the idea of the history of art as a coherent development with its own internal logic. The editors at October claimed to be bringing fresh ideas into an insular scholarly community, but what they mostly seemed to want was to sever meanings from emotions and to view works of art as little more than puzzles or palimpsests to be decoded by means of a system to which only the initiates had the key.

Appropriation, which turned art into a form of social commentary, was tailor-made for the October crowd. In his original "Pictures" essay, Crimp made the case for a group of artists who were interested in "representation freed from the tyranny of the represented." Although I am not sure exactly what this means, I suspect the argument goes something like this. When Richard Prince re-photographs an ad for Marlboro cigarettes, or Sherrie Levine re-photographs a Walker Evans photograph or makes a detailed copy of a Stuart Davis painting, the appropriated work ends up meaning what Prince or Levine wants it to mean, not what the ad executive or photographer or painter who created it in the first place had in mind. Why any of this was especially new in 1977 is unclear. Everybody was aware that Warhol and Lichtenstein had been doing this kind of stuff fifteen years earlier. And Duchamp had done it long before that. Even the avant-garde cannot escape the tyranny of tradition. (A recent anthology about appropriation, published by MIT Press, opens with excerpts from Flaubert's Dictionary of Received Ideas.) But for the purposes of "The Pictures Generation, " the 1970s were the time when Conceptualism ruled and imagery was forbidden--and along came Levine, Prince, Sherman, and Salle, returning to representation and breathing fresh life into art.

The Metropolitan has made a major commitment to this exhibition. Eklund's installation, which goes on practically forever, includes books, photographs, drawings, paintings, collages, prints, magazines, gallery announcements, videos, movies, and more, all layered and juxtaposed to create a jam-packed environment that arguably has less in common with the rather ascetic presentations of the 1970s and 1980s than with the anything-goes-anywhere exhibition style now embraced by curators for shows such as "Younger Than Jesus. " "The Pictures Generation" contains a good deal of chilly, inscrutable work, which may leave visitors scratching their heads. But just when they begin to feel completely at sea, they will come upon something in which the imagery is reassuringly familiar. Sherrie Levine offers silhouettes of presidential faces cut out of photographs of fashion models. In Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, the artist often plays the damsel in distress in scenarios that echo B movies and TV soaps, disguising herself with a variety of costumes, wigs, and makeup. David Salle's early painting We'll Shake the Bag includes a washy rendering of a couple lying in bed and a line drawing of boys playing a game. And in Louise Lawler's photographs of the interior of the home of the art collectors Burton and Emily Tremaine, we see a circular painting by Robert Delaunay partly obscured by a television set and a Pollock hanging above a credenza on which is displayed a soup tureen in a traditional floral pattern. These young post-conceptual artists are shown leading the way back to representational--and frequently pop-oriented--content. Although Eklund wants it understood that he has a healthy skepticism about the big, frolicsome art world of today, the exhibition provides part of the backstory for the current market, thereby giving the Wall Street tycoons who buy the dumb stuff produced by Sherman and Prince--and also Koons and Hirst--some assurance that the scholarly footnotes for their holdings are all in place.

While Eklund has wrapped "The Pictures Generation" in the mantle of historical impartiality, this is a highly partisan account of recent history--more partisan than Eklund, who studied the Gospel according to October when he was in graduate school, can probably imagine. Even the briefest quotations from his catalogue give a sense of the problem. "Although painting was beginning to stir again after a decade in the post-Conceptual wilderness," he writes at one point, "the most important American art of the late 1970s was interdisciplinary in nature, bearing the imprint of experimental theater and performance, which had filled the void while the art market was in the doldrums." I could not care less what Douglas Eklund thinks about painting in the 1970s, except that he is saying this under the auspices of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which lends his words an authority that they do not deserve.

Many of the New York artists who visit the Metropolitan on a regular basis will have no trouble seeing that what Eklund is offering is not a historical judgment but a value judgment. Who said that painting was in the wilderness in the 1970s? That was a time when artists such as Alex Katz and Ellsworth Kelly, who are now regarded with acute interest by many younger painters, were having vibrant careers. Eklund at one point says that his Pictures Generation "was but one manifestation of a widespread return to representation that included New Image, New Wave, 'Bad' Painting, and Neo-Expressionism," but the import of this trendy list is that anybody who had not at some point rejected painting or representation is somehow insufficiently avant-gardist to be acceptable. There were many different kinds of representational painters--Leland Bell, Susan Daykin, and Stanley Lewis, to name a few--who were doing good work back then. And for people who care about the development of painting in the past forty years, there is the decisive figure of Bill Jensen, who was already doing strong abstract paintings in 1976, and was at the time showing in exactly the sorts of alternative spaces where Eklund's favorites were getting their start.

Eklund's partisan view of recent history serves a more general misunderstanding of the history of art. By the end of his catalogue, painting is re-emerging, and there is a sense that the Pictures Generation has played a not-insignificant part in that rebirth. "It is hard to recall in our pluralistic, ahistorical art moment," he observes, "that there once was a time when painting on canvas indelibly marked an artist as retrograde, conservative, part of the problem, in the eyes of critics on the Left." That "on the Left" is of course Eklund's compromise with those who may disagree. But the entire thrust of his show and his catalogue suggests that those critics were correct. He writes that "the logical next step in the years just before 1980 surely would be to let paintings back in to the mix, as long as they kept the requisite distance and winked a little at their own complicity." Eklund is a crafty writer, so that one is not quite sure if he is giving his own wink to the return of painting, or merely recording the winking of the actors in his story, who at this point include German painters such as Polke and Richter. My feeling is that it hardly matters where Eklund is in all this, because however he may choose to situate himself, he is in the service of a very troubling historical scenario.

"Logical next step" is pure art-world Leninism, grounded in the idea that there is always a vanguard with a privileged knowledge of History. Consciously or not, Eklund subscribes to this awful faith. And where does this leave the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Is it condoning this tyrannical teleology, without which the entire structure of "The Pictures Generation" would collapse? The trouble with the idea of a return to painting is that it is grounded in the belief that painting is expendable, when in fact it is a fundamental artistic inclination that goes back to the beginnings of human history--and shows no signs of going away. Painting is not around today because the Pictures Generation woke up one morning and discovered the work of Caravaggio or Picabia or Picasso. And its health has little or nothing to do with New Image, New Wave, "Bad" Painting, and Neo-Expressionism. Painting is part of "the mix," to use Eklund's complacent term, because painting is always here--because it is an essential human avowal.

Most defenses of tradition in the arts eventually degenerate into parochialism. The Museum of Modern Art has been grappling with this problem for three-quarters of a century, and there has rarely been a time when this museum, which aims to define and defend a modern tradition in the arts, has not been under attack from some quarter of the arts community, often for good reason. In the 1930s and 1940s, the museum's founding director, Alfred H. Barr Jr., sometimes seemed to believe that abstract art had spent itself, and that art's future might involve a return to representation--ideas that enraged much of New York's avant-garde. A generation later, when William Rubin was shaping the museum's permanent collection of painting and sculpture, he argued for a rigorously formal reading of the modern tradition, which many New York artists and critics found inadequate. The greatness of the Museum of Modern Art had everything to do with the force of the arguments about tradition that the museum managed to provoke well beyond its own walls.

Nowadays MoMA aspires to be all things to all people, the most recent evidence being an exhibition of recent drawings called "Compass in Hand: Selections from the Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection." Here we find drawing, perhaps the essential artistic act, and certainly an age-old catalyst for a kaleidoscopic array of individual expressions, presented as a pluralist playground. The collection, which was given to the Modern after being put together by Harvey S. Shipley Miller of the Rothschild Foundation, has provoked worries about the museum's independence, but Gary Garrels, who was a curator at the Modern when the work was assembled, exercised whatever oversight he saw fit. In any event, the shapelessness of the show is a reflection of the Modern's lack of interest in taking any clear direction. At "Compass in Hand," the definition of drawing is so open-ended as to suggest not catholicity but provincialism. Nowadays the Modern spends a lot of energy just trying to catch up with the market: witness the shows of such hot properties as Marlene Dumas, who offers dark-toned paintings chronicling various sexual and psychic troubles, and Pipilotti Rist, who created a bright funhouse installation in the atrium, and Martin Kippenberger, whose posthumous retrospective tracked his bad-boy eclecticism through installations of found objects, little drawings on hotel stationery, and slapdash paintings. In this context, "Compass in Hand" is the ultimate sweep-up activity, covering everything not treated elsewhere in the building.

"Compass in Hand" is an overview of acceptable taste, including established figures (Brice Marden, Ellsworth Kelly), younger stars (Elizabeth Peyton, John Currin, Peter Doig), enthusiasms for Outsider Art (Henry Darger), and erotic kitsch (Tom of Finland). This is not to say that the exhibition lacks its own ideological bent. When it comes to representational art, there is a preference for irony and appropriation over anything that might be associated with sincerity or authenticity, so that you will find nothing by a veteran realist such as Lennart Anderson or a younger artist such as Ian Tornay, who has in recent years done some beautiful, brooding landscape drawings. I was interested to see, in The Brooklyn Rail, a publication that still provides an independent voice in the arts, a critical review of "Compass in Hand" by Thomas Micchelli, in which he singles out the work of Sherrie Levine, a member of Eklund's Pictures Generation. Micchelli describes Levine's appropriation of a painting by Morandi, which she has copied in gouache, ink, and pencil, as an "impersonation of the 20th-century Italian master's style." "The image," he observes, "becomes nothing more than a pictorial reference ... in the service of the artist's agenda; it does not have a life of its own." He concludes that "the enterprise of drawing ... threatens to fall into a Babel of hermetic stylings." Amen.

I suspect that a deep tension runs through the staff of the Museum of Modern Art today, and that for every person who wants the museum to remain the well-oiled tourist machine that it has become since re-opening in 2004, there are others who want to reclaim the museum's old prestige. In recent years the best news at the Modern has been a series of exhibitions that reconnect with some of the late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century artists who were important to the museum in its early days. We have had terrific shows devoted to Redon and to Seurat's drawings. This summer the central attraction is a retrospective of work by James Ensor, the Belgian eccentric whose paintings describe a nightmarish commedia dell'arte world that suggests narrative possibilities grounded not in lucid structure but in some tangled dream logic. With Ensor, as with Redon and Seurat, the Modern is offering the sort of back-to-the-future thinking that Barr had in mind when, in the years after World War II, he focused his attention on the permanent collection. He had probably concluded that in an art capital as bewilderingly complex as New York, the best way for the Museum of Modern Art to serve the public was by attending to the historical record. While the Modern should never abandon the art of the present, its greatest service to the present will probably always be its attention to the past.

"Picasso: Mosqueteros" was precisely the kind of back-to-the-future event that New Yorkers hunger for. The curators at the Museum of Modern Art would do well to consider the tremendous impact that the Gagosian show had on the public, creating an excitement that no exhibition at MoMA has matched in recent years. There was much to be learned at Gagosian about a great artist's sense of the absoluteness of painting as a tradition--and about the absoluteness of the freedom that he could achieve within that tradition. In his later years Picasso probably would have laughed at the thought that appropriation was a new idea. Hadn't he incorporated a photolithographic reproduction of caning in a canvas that he had done a lifetime earlier, in 1912? And he created more than one alternative media, beginning with sculptures that moved to music for the ballet Parade in 1917. Yet whatever Picasso did and wherever he wandered, he always returned to--he always depended on--the power of painting.

In his later years the idea of painting, reflected in countless canvases and drawings and prints of the artist at work at his easel, was among Picasso's abiding subjects. And in one of the grandest etchings in the Gagosian show, he invokes Balzac's story "The Unknown Masterpiece," about a seventeenth-century master who labors for years on a portrait of a beautiful woman but ends up with what amounts to an abstraction. This tale of the mysteries of tradition was admired by Cezanne, and was illustrated by Picasso in the 1920s, and would later fascinate de Kooning. In this etching, the confrontation between the artist and the model is complicated by the presence of another naked woman and another older man who, like the artist himself, is in the elegant garb of a Baroque gentleman. There is even an owl perched on top of the easel. The print becomes an allegory of seeing and understanding, with the two gentlemen, one with a paintbrush and one with a scroll, suggesting art and literature, or perhaps the contemplative life of the artist and the active life of the diplomat (which is how the figure is identified in the catalogue).

This magnificent print is about the capacity of painting to contain everything: wisdom and absurdity, sex and ideas, the public and the private. It was done in May 1968, when I imagine Douglas Eklund thinks painting was in the wilderness, waiting for the Pictures Generation to tell everybody what to do next. The truth is that painting was never in the wilderness. Malraux published his great book about late Picasso in 1974. He recalled that when the paintings of Picasso's last years were exhibited at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, the ancient rooms were full of radicals and hippies, who argued heatedly and excitedly about what Picasso was doing. That the Metropolitan Museum of Art has seen fit to provide a platform for the Pictures Generation does a grave disservice to the history of art in our time. That the aged Picasso, in all his messy and raucous and somewhat nutty splendor, has emerged as a hero in Chelsea this season is a reminder that the glorious, unruly energy of tradition cannot be denied.

Jed Perl is the art critic for The New Republic.