James Ensor at the MoMA

Avant Garde Art by Belgian Artist James Ensor

James Ensor artwork 


See a photograph of artist James Ensor, and you wish you could meet the man. Born in 1860, this subversive prince of Belgian avant-garde art made his most enduring mark in the latter part of that century, ripping through convention and indulging in his lifelong preoccupations with capturing light, and the sea, and death.  But for all his crazy talent, and all his obsessions, and all his disgust with politics and policy and, sometimes, with people, James Ensor remained playful, expressive, and open-minded his whole life. One look at this Belgian artist and you can’t help but think: James Ensor was quite a character.

MoMA exhibition  of Avant-garde Art and Politics

James Ensor artwork 

This MoMA exhibit is not to be missed.  Which is all to say that, despite a bit too much repetition and illustrative materials for our tastes, the James Ensor Museum of Modern Art exhibition, running now through September 21, is too good–and, in its comprehensive nature, too rare–to miss. We loved the first couple of rooms of this MoMA exhibit, best of all, which focus on James Ensor’s landscapes and portraits, mostly minus the skulls and satire that came to dominate his work in later years. For example, our very favorite piece of this Belgian artist, Rooftops of Ostend, above, painted in 1884, in which the buildings of the coastal town in which he spent much of his life sit at perky attention below a fascinating, dominating, absolutely gorgeous sky.


James Ensor artwork 

James Ensor in all of his masks and mediums

Of course, the entire MoMA exhibition has plenty to look at and think about–there are more than 120 pieces in all–and includes James Ensor paintings large and small, as well as plenty of (usually politically-tinged and sometimes quite vulgar) drawings, masks, collages and etchings. Skeletons [read: art critics] Fighting Over a Pickled Herring [read: James Ensor], above, is certainly one of James Ensor’s most emblematic works; Self Portrait with a Flowered Hat is particularly amusing once you learn that it was a two-step creation, as Ensor went back to a painting that had been gathering dust his studio and inserted the floral headgear atop a more traditional rendering; and Self Portrait with Masks, below, which nicely places the artist at the center of comic mayhem. For more information on this MoMA exhibition or avant garde art and artist James Ensor, please see the MOMA’s excellent online exhibition.


James Ensor artwork 


James Ensor at the MoMA Exhibit details

The James Ensor exhibition will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art until September 21, 2009. The MoMA is open Monday, Wednesday Thursday, Staurday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and on Friday until 8:00 p.m., when admission is free after 4:00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.

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