|A Triple Alliance
The New York Times, 13 February, 2004
13 February 2004
This engrossing exhibition of paintings, drawings and prints by Giorgio de Chirico, Francis Picabia and Andy Warhol would make any museum proud. At the same time, most museums could have fine-tuned it a bit, having the clout to obtain, for example, a classic metaphysical de Chirico of a train or arcaded piazza and somewhat better late Warhols.
But let's not quibble. The show, organized over the last two years by Gian Enzo Sperone, is a delightful visual smorgasbord that weaves a veritable cat's cradle of connections and coincidences among three of Modernism's most stand-offish overachievers. Its subject is the aging artistic imagination that, looking back over its achievements, strikes out for new territory and finds comfort in unlikely places, usually to the chagrin of early admirers.
Perhaps none was more chagrined than André Breton, who had hailed the Italian artist de Chirico as the pivotal figure of Surrealism. When de Chirico's style changed in the early 1920's Breton not only excommunicated him but may also have been responsible for many of the replicas of early de Chiricos that the artist was often excoriated for making. The small de Chiricos from the late 1920's and 30's show his attention to the old masters and to semi-classical themes, but their forthrightly luscious paint handling has a distinctly modern air.
Picabia's figurative works from the mid-1920's onward were also seen as betraying his early originality, the magnificently fleshy yet mechanized Cubist paintings. But in the late 1970's and early 80's these works, which fluctuated tauntingly between academicism and commercial illustration, started to inspire artists like Sigmar Polke, David Salle and Julian Schnabel. Picabia's penchant for piling figures into elegant linear tangles was especially influential, and this exhibition underscores the success of that tactic in his later abstract work.
It is not clear whether Warhol betrayed his early efforts so much as simply diluting them, although a black painting of multiple Marilyn Monroes, shown in negative instead of positive, offers a mysteriously effective reversal of one of his signature motifs. And it is of more than passing interest that some of Warhol's best late paintings were based on some of de Chirico's most famous
The show is wonderfully amplified by generous amounts of snapshots and portrait photographs of the show's subjects. In addition to the occasional social encounter (Warhol and de Chirico, captured side by side at a party in Rome in 1972), these reveal a shared penchant for aggressively cultivated
We see images of Picabia, the seeming playboy, in his outsize roadsters; Warhol mingling with his celebrities; and the sad, imperious de Chirico sulking around his studio in his enormous robe, like the dethroned king that in some ways he was. Between the art and the personalities, this is an