I will want to examine my perception more closely, but a  cursory visit to New York’s Museum of Modern Art (4/6/15) left me wondering about the disparity in quality between the sixth and fifth floors where the permanent collection is displayed. 1940 is the apparent dividing line between the two. The sixth floor is chock-a-block with universally accepted masterpieces, one stunning gallery of textbook works after another. Then, when one descends a flight, one is struck by the slackness of the collection. The works are generally larger, so there are fewer; and with several obvious exceptions – Pollock, Rauschenberg – there is little that rings a bell as iconic. More to the point, there is a lot of stuff that is not very interesting or, dare I say it, good?

The last word begs the question if I am competent to judge quality in this way? Is it simply a matter of familiarity: the older works have been around longer, been more frequently published, especially because they have been hung at MoMA, and therefore strike me as “masterpieces,” while the newer works are simply that – newer, thus less familiar. Or maybe the canon of art, that MoMA did so much to establish, has somewhat disintegrated in the last fifty years. Or has the competition in collecting become such that whereas MoMA had few rivals building a collection before 1960, since then international pockets have become deeper and other institutions (viz., the Metropolitan) have entered the field.

Or can we just agree that the last fifty years have not produce an artist the caliber of Cezanne, van Gogh, Matisse or Picasso? I will return and study this question in more sympathetic detail this summer.