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Giorgio de Chirico
Palafreniere con due cavalla

Francis Picabia
Portrait of Suzy Solidor

Andy Warhol
John McEnroe and Tatum O'Neal
Unholy Trinity
by Walter Robinson

"A Triple Alliance: de Chirico, Picabia, Warhol," Jan. 9-Feb. 21, 2004, at Sperone Westwater, 415 West 13th Street, New York, N.Y. 10014

Prize for best gallery exhibition of 2004 (so far) goes to "A Triple Alliance: de Chirico, Picabia, Warhol" at Sperone Westwater in Chelsea. With 16 works by Andy Warhol and 10 each by Francis Picabia and Giorgio de Chirico, plus an array of black-and-white photographs of the artists by Gianfranco Gorgoni, Philippe Halsman, Irving Penn, Anton Perich and other photographers, the show presents an novel and intriguing detournement of three masters of Surrealism, Dada and Pop. As Robert Rosenblum writes in the accompanying 120-page color catalogue, "transgressions from modernist orthodoxy are abundant in this exhibition."

What unites the three artists? The illness of retrospection, to paraphrase Rosenblum, who notes that both de Chirico and Picabia abandoned their early avant-garde styles for an impudent academicism, as if "halting the forward motion demanded by significant art." Warhol, too, seemed to lose his way late in his career with overly commercial and unfocused projects, until his untimely death caused a dramatic upward revaluation of all his production.

The show includes a classic de Chirico Metaphysical Composition from 1914 as well as Il trovatore, a 1955 pastiche of the artist's own early style. Postmodernists, however, will treasure Palafreniere con due cavalli, a richly melodramatic 1937 picture of a neoclassical youth and two gallant steeds with flowing manes on the beach. Similarly, Picabia is represented by the early mechanical abstraction, Intervention of a Woman by Means of a Machine (1915), as well as by several illustration-style portraits and love scenes from the 1940s.

Warhol did know de Chirico in Venice and Rome in the 1970s, and clearly recognized in the older master's later work the possibilities of factory-style repetition of trademark artistic imagery. The exhibition includes several works by Warhol after de Chirico (one on loan from the Andy Warhol Museum) that were done in 1982 and exhibited in Italy, four years after the senior artist's death in 1978. These "memorial" images, as Rosenberg calls them, are executed in especially lurid colors -- which now seem as bright and sweet as can be.

Blame it on the 21st century, but this candy-colored imagery is breathlessly appealing. A 1986 portrait of John McEnroe and Tatum O'Neal paints the celebrity couple as a pair of pink-cheeked blue-eyed babes enveloped in a golden envelope of happiness (a short-lived mirage, needless to say), while a 1970s portrait of Sandy Brant, with its slightly off-register reds and greens, gives the socialite publisher of Interview magazine an alluring bohemian expressionism. What more could one want?

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.