When I was a boy in 1959, taking a Friday afternoon watercolor class at the Museum of Modern Art, the first thing we learned about looking at art was "compare and contrast."
This simple trope is the basis for the majestic, yet profoundly conservative "Picasso Matisse" show at MoMA QNS, in which the dual 20th-century masters are repeatedly paired like contestants on Hollywood Squares.
Far from didactic, the double helix is so subtly woven on MoMA's concrete floors that the two giants merge into one cadmium red smeared colossus. Wall cards and guided tours, indeed any sense of museoidentity at all, disappears into the pool of deep, godlike creation.
It would be superfluous, as one would in any other show, to single out one or two pieces, just as one would hesitate to hum one phrase from Mozart or Brahms. Suffice it to say that this show posits that Picasso was never a Cubist and that Matisse never made a careless mark, and that their double vision becomes more "realistic" and grand in its humility as it recedes, with us, into the past.
The show is also a great argument for making MoMA QNS a permanent exhibition space after 2005. As Jerry Saltz told us at the opening, "I love the stone floors" -- he means the intimacy of the place, kissing Henri and Pablo, and being embraced in return.
"Matisse Picasso," Feb. 13-May 19, 2003, at MoMA QNS, 33rd Street at Queens Boulevard, Long Island City, N.Y.