April 18 (Bloomberg) -- “It smells funny in here,” a little girl observed, as she screwed up her face and held her nose.
There’s a stale odor that clings to the antiques on view in Claes Oldenburg’s “Mouse Museum,” and she was among a group of children racing into the Museum of Modern Art’s Marron Atrium to see the treasures.
A guard was quick to remind them: “Don’t touch! Don’t touch! Don’t touch!”
You can’t really blame kids for wanting to press their fingers and faces against the lighted white vitrines. Embedded in the walls, they wind around the small darkened room -- shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head.
The glowing jewel-box presentation is filled with hundreds of cartoonish, forlorn odds-and-ends. There are toys, fake food, stuffed animals, figurines and little sculptures, as well as huge cigarette butts and an assortment of vintage sexual aids.
A rummage-sale aura pervades the exhibition. Gloves feel abandoned. A spatula is twisted, as if tortured. A Freddie Fire Truck picture puzzle -- fossilized -- has never been played with.
Next door is a similar arrangement devoted to ray guns and found objects resembling firearms.
On MoMA’s 6th floor are giant, goofball fried eggs and bacon, an ice-cream cone, gym shoes, ghoulish figures, ladies’ undergarments and a picnic-table-size hamburger. Some work resembles road kill.
The crowded, junky gathering swings wildly from hilarious to nightmarish to just plain clunky. Oldenburg isn’t really an artist but a Pop Art clown.
In this exhibition of his breakthrough early sculpture -- the most entertaining Oldenburg circus I’ve ever seen -- he makes garbage look dignified.
“Claes Oldenburg: The Street and the Store” and “Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing” run through Aug. 5 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd St. Information: +1-212-708-9400; http://www.moma.org.
The breasts suggest cruise missiles or well-manicured claws, affixed in an erotic game of pin the tail on the donkey.
She has the confrontational posture of a riled sow, yet she also looks asleep. Get too close and you feel you might unwittingly stir the beast.
Sexy, visceral, she is a gorgeous jumble of fleshy pinks, grays, browns and purples. Picasso’s “Woman in an Armchair (Eva)” (1913) is a teaser as succulent as a raw-bar buffet.
The painting is among the 78 Cubist works philanthropist and cosmetics tycoon Leonard Lauder recently gave to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This masterpiece is on view at the Met for at least the next three months, and the whole collection, conservatively valued at $1 billion, will be unveiled in 2014.
Upstairs is Diego Velazquez’s “Portrait of Duke Francesco I d’Este” (1638). It’s on loan from the Galleria Estense, in Modena, Italy, while it rebuilds after last year’s earthquake.
The duke is dressed in gleaming black armor like a beetle’s hard shell with a brush-worked crimson scarf that feels windblown.
He turns toward us with a raised brow and inquisitive eyes, assessing us as we assess him.
An Italian ruler caught between France and Spain during the Thirty Years’ War, Francesco steered his state through dangerous political seas.
Fittingly, Velazquez portrays him as a ship plowing determinedly forward.
“Velazquez’s Portrait of Duke Francesco I d’Este: A Masterpiece from the Galleria Estense, Modena” runs through July 14 and “Picasso’s ‘Woman in an Armchair (Eva)’” is on view for at least the next three months at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. Information: +1-212-535-7710; http://www.metmuseum.org.
(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Rich Jaroslovsky on tech and Jason Harper on cars.
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