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Modern American Art at the Metropolitan Museum

WHEN THE NEW YORK TIMES’ Grace Glueck, in the first of the pre-opening puffs, called what was to become “New York Painting and Sculpture, 1940–1970,” simply “Henry’s Show,” one’s heart sank. So that was to be the way of it: America is given a culture by a handful of geniuses and the celebration of it, come at last, was to be just Henry Geldzahler’s show. Later, Time featured Henry leaning on a David Smith and New York Magazine had four pages of Henry along with some pictures from the exhibition, but smaller. In the end, Grace Glueck turned out to be right—it was Henry’s show, not because he painted all of those pictures (it became harder and harder to keep in mind that he painted not even one of them) but because there was no understanding the exhibition without referring to Geldzahler and his peculiar relations to the art of his time.

The exhibition is exquisite and rude, high-minded and

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