Met Gets Convincingly Contemporary With Neo Rauch’s Dreamscapes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been attempting to fit contemporary art within its walls for some time now. The

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been attempting to fit contemporary art within its walls for some time now. The results have been fumbling, if never less than earnest. Acting on the muddled assumption that major reputations are necessarily earned by major art, the curators have devoted valuable space to Thomas Struth, Bill Viola, Tony Oursler and Kara Walker.

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With Neo Rauch at the Met (May 22 to Sept. 23), the museum takes what might be its most convincing step yet into the 21st century. Mr. Rauch (b. 1960) is that rare creature: an international art star who merits the hype. In the German painter’s kaleidoscopic dreamscapes, nostalgia and dread are inseparable, and the present is a tenuous proposition.

Absurdly mixing and matching the conventions of Social Realism, the collage aesthetic and a disappointed futurism, Mr. Rauch’s paintings underline the burdens of history and the hopelessness of transcending them. Think of him as a slacker Max Beckmann for the Information Age, albeit without rage and without options.

Mr. Rauch’s bad pictures are few and far between, but neither has he created an image that brands itself on the memory; a dry and dour blur of portent is par for the course. Maybe one of the six canvases he’s painting exclusively for the Met will pin down the anxieties particular to our age.

New Yorkers who didn’t get their fill of grimly prophetic art with the Met’s Glitter and Doom can head to the Morgan Library to view Mr. Rauch’s forebears in social and psychological unrest: The museum will display German and Austrian works-on-paper by Egon Schiele, Max Beckmann, Oskar Kokoschka, George Grosz and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, among others.

Culled from the collection of Fred Ebb—yes, the man who wrote the lyrics for Cabaret—From Berlin to Broadway (April 20 to Sept. 2) celebrates the estate’s gift of 43 drawings. Ebb’s interest in German popular music produced between the two world wars led to a specialized and, in retrospect, inevitable taste in art. Most of the drawings haven’t been exhibited for close to 30 years; they’re sure to benefit from a public airing—as, in all likelihood, will we.

How much bad acid trips, black-light posters and the Strawberry Alarm Clock will figure in Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era remains to be seen, but the Whitney’s foray into hippiedom will include a section devoted to the Human Be-In, with Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary, and Jimi Hendrix’s only known watercolor (May 24 to Sept. 16). Less hallucinogenic, though perhaps as vulgar, is Rococo Exotic: French Mounted Porcelain and the Allure of the East at the Frick Collection, an exhibition that details the fascination of mid-18th-century Parisians with Far Eastern porcelain, as well as their subsequent efforts to elaborate upon them: Florid metal stands were crafted to hold these exotic items. Presumably, the Frick will explore whether this was an homage to the exotic, or an imposition on it (March 6 to June 10).

Jonathan Lasker’s paintings, on display at Cheim & Read, revel in the clichés of abstraction: Touch is rendered chilly and gross, the relationship between figure and ground a ham-handed joke, and the palette is awful, acidic and loud—but in a good way (March 29 to May 5).

Whether you’re looking forward to Carroll Dunham’s crudely cartoonish paintings, upcoming at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery, will depend on whether you think murderous, fedora-wearing dickheads constitute a credible form of “psycho-sexual cultural critique” (March 24 to April 27).

Eric Holzman’s drawings, on display at the New York Studio School, promise pleasures of a more evanescent sort. A draftsman of unrelenting subtlety, Mr. Holzman demonstrates his love for Renaissance art and the everyday with works that fade in and out with a silvery ghostliness (March 29 to May 12).

Pace Wildenstein’s 57th Street branch will be presenting Picasso, Braque and Early Film in Cubism, a titillating conceit that will likely be another museum-quality exhibition from this redoubtable venue (April 20 to June 23).

And finally, the real reason the Museum of Modern Art undertook its expansion and renovation: Richard Serra. Well, perhaps not really, but is there another contemporary artist whose work wouldn’t be dwarfed by MoMA’s cold and cavernous spaces? Heading into the summer, the museum will fête Mr. Serra with a 40-year retrospective (June 3 to Sept. 10).

Having established his Minimalist bona fides by flinging molten lead into a corner of the room, Mr. Serra went on to achieve considerable notoriety with his towering walls of Cor-Ten steel—torquing panels that reconfigure space for those brave enough to sidle up to them. Bullying and elegant, Mr. Serra’s rusted monoliths and mazes are intimidating as sculpture and impressive as engineering. Getting the damned things into MoMA will be a feat in and of itself.

Met Gets Convincingly Contemporary  With Neo Rauch’s Dreamscapes