James Ensor, Masks Mocking Death, 1888, oil on canvas, 32 x 39 1/2". © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SABAM, Brussels.

New York

James Ensor

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
June 28–September 21, 2009

Musée d'Orsay
62 rue de Lille
October 1–February 1, 2009

Curated by Anna Swinbourne

James Ensor (1860–1949), the Belgian Symbolist and proto-Expressionist, is a perennial favorite among people with the right taste. One of the very tippy-top paintings in any American collection is his—Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, 1888, at the Getty. Sadly, that work will not travel here, although the show does feature the Museum of Modern Art’s no less iconic Masks Mocking Death, made the same year. Skeletons, masks, and puppets are mainstays of Ensorworld iconography, and yet for all his trafficking in lurid mayhem and morbidity, Ensor nevertheless suspires an air of transcendence. So we can thank MoMA for mounting this large-scale, thematically organized exhibition of approximately ninety paintings, drawings, and prints and for publishing a hefty, scholarly catalogue. At last, the heart sings, something worth looking at.