Not that we needed any convincing about Belgian artist James Ensor (1860-1949), but after New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl declared that the "astonishing" Ensor retrospective at MoMA "will affect many viewers like the detonation of a bomb whose fuse has been fizzing inconspicuously for a century," we quit procrastinating and finally humped it to midtown on Saturday. It was definitely worth the trip, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the exhibit wasn't disastrously mobbed in the way that blockbuster museum retrospectives tend to get.
Though the show is missing what many consider to be Ensor's masterpiece, Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889 (which the Getty declined to lend to MoMA), it does feature two related large scale drawings that preceded it. And the other paintings hanging in the galleries are more than enough to underscore Ensor's stunning ability to imbue canvases with entrancing, almost mystical vibrations. At turns bitingly satirical (art critics fighting over an Ensor herring), gleefully vulgar (clergymen and officers defecating into the rabble's open mouths), and simply spellbinding ("Adam and Eve Expelled from Paradise"), the collection runs the full spectrum from miniature illustrations to dazzling, large-scale portraiture. It's not to be missed, and you can meet James Ensor for yourself at MoMA through September 21st.