As we approach the unbalanced year 2003, when the cultural lists of best and worst sprout, perhaps it's time to reorder the whole last century in art.
Christie's and Sotheby's of course moved the goalposts between modern and contemporary a few times recently, unwittingly unleashing the price boom in Warhol, Sherman, Richter and Koons, among others, yet they did not go far enough -- to wit, what does a time frame that begins with Picasso and ends with Damien Hirst really look like?
First, it is a world that, mirroring 20th-century politics, emphasizes the violent, the distorted and the grotesque. There is correspondingly little room for the pastoral, the romantic and the transcendent.
A Medusan continuum would thus take us from Demoiselles through Dalí and Max Ernst, wave quickly at de Kooning's women, re-emerge in the darker Warhols and Rosenquist, then burst forth dreadfully in David Salle, Koons, Sherman, Richter and Hirst, not to mention such muted acolytes as Lisa Yuskavage and Inka Essenhigh. Perhaps Paul Cadmus or Ed Kienholz will be newly seen as hidden gems.
In such works the human soul is pulled through its skin and mashed on the cruel crucible of 20th-century technatrocities.
In this new rearview, abstraction from Rothko to Joan Mitchell becomes so much haute bourgeois kerfluffle, Minimalism an architectural joke and Duchamp nothing more than a vaudeville comedian.
Or, should peace miraculously (or through the shrewd use of American military power, e.g. a Pax Americana) break out, perhaps the future will prefer the Pop model, art as diversion.
Here we begin with Picasso/Braque, then Matisse's cartoon harem segues directly through Roy Lichtenstein, Andy's portraits, Alex Katz and Chuck Close, towards Sigmar Polke and Eric Fischl and the ubiquitous Koons to soothingly perch in the nest of Gary Hume, Chris Ofili and Lisa Ruyter.
In this rearview weltanschauung, weirdos like Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers, Joan Brown, Romare Bearden and Ed Paschke might enter some future pantheon.
The betting here (and who of us will be around to see it?) is that, either way, the human figure will be, as it has throughout art history, the dominant attraction for human eyes looking backward (the only way we can look, unfortunately) and that abstraction, even Pollock, Minimalism, Conceptualism and the concerns of the October crowd, will completely disappear.
And, blessedly, the prices and tastes of the auction gang will look nothing like they do today.
Memo to our children's children: Pollocks for pennies and millions for Alex Katz. Yum.