Jerry Saltz tries to match James Ensor’s painterly weirdness with his own weird prose. But once you get past the frenzy of alliteration, there’s a lot in this review of MoMA’s new show:
Ensor’s swirling surfaces, kaleidoscopic color, corkscrewing space, fluttery fevered touch, and fiendish feel for facial features and fanfare make him, with El Greco, one of the great weird painters of all time. At the Museum of Modern Art’s diligent, disciplined Ensor retrospective, you can see that he was better than just about anyone at painting crowds, clowns, contempt, and cacophony. Despite the flushed grandstanding in many of his paintings, his perfect storm of inflated self-esteem, angry viewpoint, and perverse inner landscape combine to make him one of art history’s visionaries.
A visual hysteric and geographer of fin de siècle pathologies, Ensor gives us kings defecating on citizens, himself urinating on a wall that reads ensor est un fou (“Ensor is a nut”), skeletons fighting over a pickled herring, waiters serving human heads on platters, flesh-eating ghouls, vomiting comics, and cavorting demons. Even if you find his visions flaky, he’s the advance man for practically everything twentieth-century, including Expressionism and Surrealism. He presages artists as diverse as Miró, Florine Stettheimer, Henry Darger, Cy Twombly, and Verne Dawson.
Teeing Up the Twentieth Century (New York Magazine)