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Ensor at MoMA

I was in New York City for a few hours today and managed to get over to the Museum of Modern Art to take in the James Ensor exhibition (up through September 21).Ensor has always fascinated me, ever since I saw his "Christ's Entry Into Brussels" (not in this exhibition), which depicted a small Savior bathed in light but lost in a huge, sprawling crowd of oblivious revelers, many of whose faces are grotesque masks. There was a mesmerizing intensity to the painting -- part prophetic social commentary, part anguished spirituality.Ensor was born in 1860 -- his father was of English extraction, but he lived and worked in Ostend, Belgium. While he never achieved the renown of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists -- he was too quirky and too traditional at the same time -- he truly was a major figure in the history of modern art.And he was obsessed with the person of Christ. The exhibition audioguide brushes this off as Ensor's identification of himself (a la Gauguin) with Christ as a suffering, marginalized figure. But that doesn't explain many of the paintings and drawings, such as the luminous "Christ Calming the Storm." Or his other Old Testament paintings.Ensor was a tortured modern man, with a Boschian love of the grotesque, but he also had a powerful religious sense and a strong commitment to social justice.He's a modern master you probably don't know but should. I hope many of you can make it over to MoMA for the show.The MoMA web page is here.

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