Any exhibition of older art drawn from a museum’s permanent collection is a palm held out for us to read, a snapshot of the museum’s sense of its role over time, its present ambitions and its view of art history. Place two such exhibitions side by side and an especially intense and revealing frisson can occur.
Thus we have the palpable electricity between “Jackson Pollock: A Collection Survey: 1934-1954” and “Take an Object,” two shows at the Museum of Modern Art. The Pollock is a dazzling 58-work account of that leading Abstract Expressionist’s achievement, with special focus on the development of his signature drip paintings in the mid-1940s. “Take an Object” is a survey of worldlier, more externalized art-making by 20 post-Pollock artists from the United States and Europe, made between 1955 and the mid-70s. It takes its title from a notebook entry by Jasper Johns: “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. [Repeat.]”
These shows say a lot about postwar history and the Modern’s representation of it; moreover, they define a watershed moment when painting began to share the stage with a new kind of art-making that was emerging.